Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sarvam Audio

Ilaiyaraja's mature, rough voice isn't exactly the best choice for the youthful Adadaa Vaa... but he does manage to bring some flippancy into his voice and the natural rustic nature of his voice is balanced out by the hipness in the portions sung in English by the female singers. But the highlights of this song are undoubtedly the flute interludes that are totally hypnotic. Sila IravugaL... is an awesome number whose only downside is that it is sung by Yuvan himself. The tune, especially the way each stanza ends with a stretched-out needhaane... and then segues into the first line's needhaane..., is superb and is matched by the orchestration. Suttaa Suriyanai... is an inspirational song and Yuvan falls back to the template he uses for such songs(like Vallavan's Hip Hip Hurray...) with strong, heavy beats. The song has a strong similarity to Megam Karukkudhu... but Yuvan cleverly introduces a line from that song and turns it into a homage. KaatrukkuLLe... is a trademark Yuvan melody that he once again butchers by rendering it himself. His diction and singing are bad throughout but the high-pitch portions actually make us wince. Considering this is said to be a romance, its surprising that SiragugaL... is the only real duet. The number has a slightly old-fashioned feel and reminds us of Boys' Ale Ale.... The Theme Music uses a couple of different styles but isn't really catchy and makes us think the flute interlude in Adadaa Vaa... could've worked just as well.

Yuvan has shared a good rapport with director Vishnuvardhan in the past and he reinforces that again with one of his better albums in recent times though it still falls short of his best efforts.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The 2009 Oscars

- Hugh Jackman seemed to have realized that he could never match up to the show's previous hosts like Crystal, Stewart, Goldberg, Martin and Letterman when it came to humor. So he cut down on the jokes and turned to song & dance. The first number did give the show a jumpstart since it came as a complete surprise. But the other numbers in the middle of the show were kinda boring. Jackman was onstage for such a short time that he seemed completely redundant though.

- With Jackman's monologues being rather low on jokes(his quip about Oscars going to actors with range was probably the best), it was up to some of the presenters to make us laugh. Jack Black, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg were - quite obviously - the most successful at that.

- The usual format of 2 presenters reading out the nominations was changed for the Supporting Actor/Actress and Best Actor/Actress awards as five previous winners read out the nominations before one of them declared the winner. It made the process a bit longer but it did help all those who were nominated be in the spotlight for a bit longer than usual and that was nice. De Niro's speech nominating Sean Penn was the best and was both funny and classy.

- Can't say the same thing about the award recipients. There were no really memorable, fascinating or witty acceptance speeches and most of the speeches were little more than a shopping list of thank yous. So the few interesting moments - like the whistle from Kate Winslet's dad in the audience or the disappearing-coin magic trick by the winner of the Best Documentary - stood out just by not being run-of-the-mill.

- The special feature this time was a montage of clips from all films belonging to a particular genre. Wasn't particularly interesting.

- It was definitely Slumdog Millionaire's night as it scooped up most of the awards it was nominated for. Our first goosebump moment came as Resul Pookutty collected the Oscar for Sound Mixing for the film. He gave a really good speech(he was the only one to thank his teachers, I think) and though he was understandably excited, he definitely seemed genuine.

- Having been looking forward anxiously to Rahman's live performance, the performance of the nominated scores by the official orchestra came as a disappointment since I took it as a sign that his performance had been cancelled. I soon realized that it was premature but before that came the moment we were all waiting for as ARR's name was announced as winner for Best Score. Calm and composed as always, he made our night with a simple line - Ellappugazhum Iraivanukke!

He then came on stage to perform both his nominated songs - O Saaya... and Jai Ho.... The rousing and totally exhilarating Jai Ho... left us with little doubt that it would win the Oscar and that came true just a couple of minutes later as he came back onstage to accept the statue for Best Song. It was another short, simple but memorable speech about choosing love over hate and where that had landed him.

- Slumdog Millionaire continues racking up awards, including the two big ones - Best Director for Danny Boyle and Best Picture. It was nice seeing the whole gang up onstage for the latter award and even nicer seeing Anil Kapoor act much more restrained than he did at the Golden Globes!

Jai Ho!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Robot Rajni?

[Pic from Behindwoods]

New photos - unofficial, no doubt - of Rajni in Endhiran. Looks like Shankar has kept his promise to give thalaivar a never-before-seen look. Wonder if this is the look of Rajni in the robot-gone-bad role...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cinemakshari - 3

After an even longer gap than what separated the first and second editions, here's the third edition of the Cinemakshari contest. Your task is to complete the chain of 10 Tamil movie names below. Starting with the second film's name, the first word of each film’s name is some form of the last word of the name of the film above it (so, if a movie’s name ends in kaadhal, the next movie’s name could start with kaadhal, kaadhalan, kaadhali, kaadhale, kaadhalikka, kaadhalukku… you get the idea!). For reference, here are the first(here's the solution) and second editions of the game.

The biggest problem the last 2 times turned out to be the clues. Providing no clues made the game too difficult while the clues I eventually provided led to complaints that they made the game too easy. I'm still trying to figure out how to strike a balance between the two and so, this time, the clues include only the year of the film(in most cases, as per IMdB) for the first round. As before, more clues will be provided if this proves to be too difficult.

Indru ______ ______ ______ (1983)

______ ______ ______ (In production)

______ ______ (1967)

______ ______ (1959)

______ ______ ______ ______ (1955)

______ ______ (1964)

______ ______ (1983)

______ ______ (2001)

______ ______ (1992)

______ ______ ______ (1991)

Solutions can be emailed to bbalaji [@] sbcglobal [dot] net (please restrict comments to comments/questions about the game only). Partial solutions are welcome too.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu

The sports movie, where a team considered the underdog beats all odds to rise to the top, is a staple of several film industries but not our own. Since sports, rather than romance or action, takes centerstage in such movies, it is easy to see why. Chennai 600028 proved that it was possible to make a fun, entertaining Tamil film revolving around a local sport and Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu offers further proof with a sport that is even more local. The well-paced screenplay and interesting characters help turn the familiar story into an engaging entertainer.

Marimuthu(Vishnu) and his six friends are the members of the Vennila kabaddi team in the town of Kanakkanpatti near Pazhani. Though they put their heart and soul into every game, they rarely taste success and naturally, dont have the respect of their family and friends. After tasting defeat even on home ground during the festival, the team sees an ad for a tournament in Madurai and wants to participate in it. Madurai is also where the girl(Saranya Mohan) that Mari met during the festival, hails from.

Having a team sport allows the director to present a diverse group of characters who are both interesting on their own and play well off each other. Each of the players has his own quirks to set him apart so that though they are played by an unknown set of actors, we have no difficulty in telling them apart. And though there are 7 characters to focus on, the director still doesn't lose sight of the supporting characters around them. Through short but effective scenes where they rebuke the players or demonstrate their pride in them, the director ensures that they catch our eye too.

The script mines a lot humor from defeat as it keeps us smiling through the team's low phase. The script knows that the dialect lends itself to humor very well and exploits it with some very funny retorts and remarks. Some of the sequences, like the familiar part of festivals where the guys, blindfolder and armed with only a stick, try to break a pot that is tied up on a string, are laugh-out-loud funny with one funny gag and comment after another but even otherwise, the film never goes for too without making us atleast chuckle. The jokes feel spontaneous and even for longer setpieces, like the bet at the roadside eatery, the punchlines are not always obvious. The humor also helps keep the romance afloat though Vishnu and Saranya rarely speak to each other.

With the titular team starting off on a losing streak, finding an angel in the form of a coach and then eyeing a high-profile tournament, the film follows the story arc of a sports movie quite faithfully. But within that familiar outline, it manages to introduce some minor changes in the way the story proceeds, especially after they make it to Madurai intending to take part in the tournament. Some of these, like the way a couple of previous enmities are resolved, work as they are surprising enough to retain our interest in the proceedings inspite of the predictable story. But others, like the team's path through the tournament, work against our involvement in the movie. So some sequences, like the team's performance after an inspirational speech or their training routine, don't give us the rush they are supposed to in movies like this.

Though kabaddi is a local sport, the movie does show us that it has its own set of problems when it comes to the big league. And since the sport has rather simple rules, it is easy to get involved in the matches shown in the movie as they are picturized with energy. A case in point is the final match. VKK plays with our expectations in the match and this works perfectly only because of our involvement. But it then takes things too far and falters as the epilogue feels unnecessary for the kind of film it has been and so, feels almost distasteful.

The mostly-new cast does an adequate job, conveying their disappointments and hopes naturally. Kishore, who was the villain in Pollaadhavan, has a good screen presence is able to convey what he wants to say with intensity and conviction, inspite of his very strong accent. Saranya Mohan looks a bit more mature than in her recent movies but her performance isn't any different. The songs are melodious and work well in the movie but the background score, especially during the team's ascent, could've used more energy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Luck By Chance

Luck By Chance is set in the Hindi film industry. At its center are an actor(Farhan Akhtar) and an actress(Konkona Sen Sharma) trying to make it big. Fate has different paths in store for them and as they traverse those paths, we get to see the workings of the industry itself.

Director Zoya Akhtar paints the film industry in rather harsh colors. Nobody, from a struggling actor to an established superstar, is spared as she lays bare everything that goes on behind the glamor and glitz we see onscreen. And this is not the light-hearted lampooning that went on in films like Om Shanti Om either. Matters like the casting couch, ego clashes, betrayals and affairs are all touched upon and there's no mistaking the kind of place Zoya thinks Bollywood is. But all these are handled in a matter-of-fact way and that saves the movie from resembling a documentary. There is no preaching or moralizing at any point and Zoya just presents things as is, with humor and sentiments going hand-in-hand.

In movies like these - ones that chronicle the rise of an underdog - the protagonist has a squeaky-clean image and we are expected to side with him wholeheartedly. So Farhan's character arc comes as a bit of a surprise as he manipulates (the way he plays Dimple Kapadia is a beauty) and uses those around him. Not that he's a complete bad guy. In fact, barring Konkona, who plays a more straightforward, sympathetic role, everyone in the film has these shades of gray. Like Hrithik, who plays the reigning superstar. The way he leaves a producer in the lurch when a better opportunity opens up and the joy he feels when reading an article that trashes Farhan show us beautifully that even the biggest stars are not free of feelings of insecurity. Such well-etched characters and fascinating snapshots of Bollywood give the film a sense of realism.

The film's end is in line with its tone so far. While it doesn't tie things up neatly or manufacture an artificial, feel-good ending, it doesn't go out of its way to end things in a downbeat fashion either. It brings a certain level of closure but doesn't overdo it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Siva Manasula Sakthi - Audio

The orchestration is good but the lackluster tune lets down MGR Illenga..., which sounds like the hero's introduction number that he sings with his friends. The lyrics are interesting at the start as the guys describe themselves as middle-of-the-road types but soon descend into familiar territory as they sing about their actions. Oru Kal... is a great number but one doesn't realize it in the version sung by Yuvan since we are put off by his strained singing (it took me a while to realize that it is Oru Kal and not Varukkal!). Adnan Sami sings the same number in his usual slurred voice but gets the pitch just right. Shankar Mahadevan infuses Oru Adangaappidaari... with his usual energy. The lyrics are a bit funny but the song is rather one-sided (the female singer gets only a couple of lines in each stanza) and so its not as much fun as the similar-themed Erimalai Naane... from Kanda NaaL Mudhal. Oru Paarvaiyil... is criminally short and is over before we can grasp the smooth, fast tune and Ranjith's singing. Thithikkum Theeyai... is youthful and catchy with nice backgrounds and some sensuous bits by Swetha. The slow pace and steady beats make Eppidiyo Maattikkitte... - especially the humming and the interludes - sound real familiar. The liberal use of English in the number doesn't work too well.

It's been a while since Yuvan delivered a truly memorable album and Siva Manasula Sakthi isn't it either. But the three good numbers ensure that it can't be written off.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Romantic Simbhu

I read a couple of days ago that Simbhu had decided to act only in soft, romantic roles in 2009. Considering that his filmography so far is almost exclusively made up of action movies and his last 2 films, KaaLai and Silambaattam, were hardcore masala flicks that categorically telegraphed his intention to become the next Vijay, that decision came as a pleasant surprise. And it looks like it is a resolution he intends to keep.

Simbhu's next project is Poadaa Poadi, where he is paired up with Varalakshmi, Sarathkumar's daughter. Inspite of that coarse title, it is tipped to be a film about a young, newly-married couple and is to be shot fully in Canada. There is also a lot of buzz the last couple of days about his film ViNNai Thaandi Varuvaayaa, which was apparently advertised with some posters(one of which is seen above and the another recreated a scene from the song VeNNilave VeNNilave..., from which the title is borrowed) that had no information about the rest of the cast or the technical crew. Rumors suggest that the film will be directed by none other than Gautham Menon and will have music by A.R.Rehman. If that is true, it will definitely be an interesting combination since, based on the kind of movies he was doing, I was half-expecting a Perarasu-Srikanth Deva team-up for Simbhu's next movie! Finally, Simbhu's name is also being talked about for the remake of Bachna Ae Haseena, the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer that had him cheat three women and then try to make amends to them.

If I had been asked to name the young Tamil actors who were least likely to do 3 romantic films in a row, Simbhu would've been second on that list(Vijay, ofcourse, would've been first). With this move, he has definitely surprised me and because of that, has earned my grudging admiration.

Monday, February 09, 2009

2008 Tamil Cinema - The Top 10

10. Raman Thediya Seethai
One of the few mature romances that dealt with the affairs of the heart of older couples, this was a natural, feel-good film about a man's search for his Mrs. Right. Populated with characters that were good but not artificially so and made up of situations that were natural and down-to-earth, we watched the film with a warm feeling in our hearts.

9. Poi Solla Porom
With no big-name stars and none of the items(comedy track, fights and even duets) that are considered an integral part of our cinema, this was a rare film that told its familar David vs Goliath story in a simple and down-to-earth fashion. That helped us overlook its faults - like the simplistic scam and lack of tension - making the little film a big entertainer.

8. Santosh Subramaniyam
Director Raja, 'Jayam' Ravi's brother, once again proved that he had mastered the art of remaking with this retelling of Bommarillu, a film about the relationship between a son and his strict father. With winsome characters, a story that allowed the characters to develop their individualities and good humor that was integrated well into the film, the film worked as well as the original as far as entertainment value goes. And that rarely happens.

7. Vaaranam Aayiram
A heartfelt tribute from Gautham to his father, the film achieved its objective of eulogizing Dad with an ambitious story that illustrated a father's importance by keeping him in the background but showing us the pivotal role he played in his son's life. With an appealing protagonist and well-etched relationships, the film worked well at the macro level but the lack of attention to detail and the incongruous script diluted the movie's emotional impact.

6. Saroja
With 4 everyday guys as heroes, Venkat Prabhu made this a solid, engaging thriller that managed to be both believable and exciting - not an easy combination to achieve. The down-to-earth nature of the guys got us involved while the clever screenplay and visual tricks kept us engaged inspite of the story almost coming to a standstill in the second half.

5. Anjaathey
All of this film's tracks - a policeman's coming-of-age story, a tale about a friendship gone bad, a cops-and-robbers crime thriller, a son finding redemption in his father's eyes, a love story - were handled with a sober, realistic touch by Mysskin, who elevated them by never losing sight of the human side of things. His directorial touches, like a virtuoso scene where he showed only the actors' legs - were ambitious and made the film stand out as a director's movie.

4. Alibaba
Hitchcock's favorite theme of an innocent man being framed and trying to clear his name was at the heart of this underrated but very effective thriller. It had an interesting protagonist, a suspenseful story that didn't abandon logic and a fast-paced screenplay but its biggest asset was the consistently surprising screenplay that successfully combined misdirection and surprise right upto the end.

3. Kanchivaram
Priyadarshan gave us a pleasant surprise with this sensitively-crafted emotional tale that was set among the weaver community in the city of Kanchivaram in 1948. While it showed us the sorry plight of the weavers and nicely chronicled the rise of communism among them, it was essentially about a father's love for his daughter as that towered over everything else.

2. Poo
Director Sasi unfurled a new facet of romance this simple but stirring tale of a woman's dedication and commitment to a man. At its center was a very unique, rather remarkable woman who we understood fully only during the film's last act but many of its supporting characters were also developed well with surprising character arcs. Sasi's directorial skills, visual touches, unexpected comic interludes and character development transformed the simple story into a soft but emotionally strong film.

1. Subramanyapuram
Sasikumar stunned us with this daring, confident debut. While the story was a familiar one of close friends getting caught up in a spiral of violence, the setting(Madurai in the 80s) and the refreshingly natural proceedings made the movie stand out amidst other risk-averse cookie-cutter movies. But what stood out more than anything else was the debutant director's complete lack of compromise as he made the film he wanted to make and in the process, gave us a movie that was rousingly realistic and constantly gripping.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Naan KadavuL

Naan KadavuL has most of the things we've come to expect in a film by Bala after films like Sethu, Nandha and Pithaamagan - the unique characterization, the spotlight on a section of society seldom seen in films, the dark, depressing tone and the uncompromisingly bleak storyline. But the one aspect that drove those films forward - the strong relationship that existed between the main characters - is missing and that makes the film have less of an impact compared to Bala's earlier efforts.

Rudran(Arya) was left in Kasi as a boy by his dad, after warnings from astrologers that the boy would bring bad luck to their household. The boy has grown up to be an Aghori, a sect of sadhus who believe that they are God and possess the power to halt a dead person's rebirth. He returns to Malaikovil with his dad but continues to live the life of a sadhu, much to the chagrin of his parents. Malaikovil is where the ruthless Thandavan has made a business out of sending disabled beggars to beg outside the temple. The latest unwilling addition to his gang is Hamsavalli(Pooja), a blind singer.

Bala turns his unforgiving camera on begging this time as we get to see how it is carried on as an organized business by people who control the beggars and their income. While its sad enough seeing the disabled beggars ply their trade, we are given a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when they are not out on the streets. And its horrific. Bala unflinchingly trains his camera on the group of physically disabled beggars and its not easy seeing the conditions they live under or the treatment meted out to them by the man who controls them. Proceedings do sometimes veer dangerously close to feeling exploitative but the fact that Bala is simply shining light on things that do happen in the dark recesses of society is always at the back of our minds.

Surprisingly, Bala manages to inject some humor into this depressing scenario too. Life has given these members of society a really raw deal but they make what they can out of it. Their snarky comments and rascally behavior induce laughter and it is impossible not to smile as they gang up and do what they can to have fun when away from the eyes of their owner.

When seen over the whole movie, Arya's character arc does validate the title. Like in all those stories about God, he gets an impressive start in Kasi where we learn about him and his powers, goes to a place where he is most needed, destroys evil and helps those (in different ways and some more than the others) in need. The problem is that he seems to be simply a bystander for the most part once he goes to Malaikovil. He goes on with his life - which consists entirely of smoking ganja and chanting a few slogans - and his path never intersects with that of the beggars. So he is more a supporting player than the central character. In fact, there are times(like his visit to the police station and the court) where he is reduced to playing the role of a comedian, as the interactions of others with him are played mainly for laughs.

Arya's emotional detachment works against the film in the concluding portions since he doesn't develop a connection with anyone. Logically, it does make sense as Aghoris are supposed to be free of emotional roots, as Arya's guru tells him before his trip, and they can see someone for who he really is. But from the point of view of the movie, it disallows the emotional build-up that is so important for the climax to work. So the climax feels rushed and the surge of emotions we usually get when the bad guys get their comeuppance doesn't really happen though the bad guys here are some of the baddest we have seen.

Arya looks the part of the sadhu and has perfected the body language and fiery expressions that go with it. But he doesn't have to do much more than that. A completely deglamorized Pooja inhabits the role of the blind singer very convincingly. She earns our sympathy and is terrific when pleading with Arya in the climax. The actor playing the beggars' owner earns our revulsion with every single act. Ilaiyaraja's background score is suitably solemn in the scenes involving the beggars and powerful when Arya is onscreen. Om Siva Om... is expectedly rousing as it begins and ends the movie while Pichai Paathiram... sounds even more somber considering the scenario. Neither Amma Un Pillai... nor the short clip of Maatha Un Kovilil... find a place in the film.


Sports movies fall into 2 categories - a rags-to-riches story where the underdog beats all odds to end up victorious(both Lagaan and Chak De India would belong to this one) or a rags-to-riches-to-rags story where a sportsman becomes successful, allows the success to go to his/her head and faces the consequences. Victory starts off looking like it belongs to the former category but soon reveals itself as an entry in the latter category as a cricketer Vijay(Harman Baweja, back after a disastrous start in Love Story 2050), after languishing in obscurity in Jaisalmer, gets to play for the Ranji Trophy, is selected for the National team, piles up one successful inning after another and is swayed by the fame and money that accompany his success.

The film spends too little time on Harman's rise and this comes in the way of us connecting with the character. His dad's(Anupam Kher) ambitions and disappointments are showcased a lot better. Harman's actions during his career's ups and downs are all completely predictable and the film follows the template of similarly-themed movies to the letter. The cricket scenes are staged well with a few cricketers(like Jayasurya and Brett Lee) making cameos. But Harman's plays are completely unrealistic as he apparently hits only 4s and 6s when playing well and gets out with no runs on the board when out of form. Considering its a feel-good movie, the unnecessarily sentimental epilogue feels distasteful.

Friday, February 06, 2009

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Kanchivaram, Mahesh Saranya Mattrum Palar and Thenaavattu are now online @ bbreviews.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Coming Soon - Naan KadavuL

Ever since Sethu came out of nowhere to shock us, the release of a film by its director Bala has been looked forward to by Tamil cinema enthusiasts. And he hasn't disappointed us so far. Following up his debut with Nandha and Pithaamagan, he has rightly earned a name for powerful, character-driven films that stood out with their uncompromisingly bleak tone and dark and depressing storylines. 5long years after Pithaamagan, he is back with Naan KadavuL, which is releasing this Friday.

Like other movies of Bala, Naan KadavuL has also been in the news - and not always for the right reasons - from the day it was announced. Ajith was initially supposed to be the hero(there was even a poster featuring Ajith floating around for the movie) but that fell through. With a lot of the shooting taking place in Varanasi, the film encountered several production delays and went over budget. But its problems are finally settled and it is all set to hit the screens. The film is supposedly set among the Aghori sect of sadhus in Varanasi but not much more is known about it - especially since Arya has pooh-poohed the widespread rumors about the film capturing the cannibalistic habits of these sadhus.

Bala's movies so far have been marked by unique, memorable protagonists and powerful supporting characters. It is virtually impossible to forget Sethu, Nandha or Sithan or the intensity that was part of those characters. But what really carried Bala's movies forward were the relationships that these characters shared with those around them. Illustrating the truth in the adage that opposites attract, Bala paired up these characters with others who were completely disimilar to them. This was most apparent in Pithaamagan, where the flamboyant, sweet-talking Sakthivel was the opposite of the silent, almost-animalistic Sithan. But this relationship between mismatched characters has always been there in Bala's movies, whether in the romance between the intense Sethu and the timid Abhitha or in the mentor-protege relationship between the short-tempered Nandha and the composed Periyavar. This makes us wonder who Arya is going to be paired up with in Naan KadavuL.

Bala has never shied away from tragedy. All his movies so far have featured serious storylines and have ended in tragedy. While we can't say that he has never compromised his vision(the dances in Sethu and the unnecessary segment with Simran in Pithaamagan were definitely compromises), his unapologetic handling of dark themes makes him stand out among our directors. Based on his track record, we can expect a similar dark tone in Naan KadavuL too.

Bala has always managed to extract terrific performances from his lead actors. With Vikram, he gave him a new lease of life with Sethu and then extracted a National Award-winning performance from him in Pithamagan while in the latter, he also transformed Surya, who had hither stuck to quiet, serious roles, into a fun, fast-talking swindler. This is good news for Arya, who was quite lucky to land the lead role here. While the actor has shown a willingness to go past his good looks and take on different roles, he has yet to really prove his acting chops and has seemed a little stiff in his roles so far. Pooja has fared better than Arya and has shown promise even in cliched roles so far. The two can't get a better teacher than Bala and we can expect good performances from them.

After scoring music for some stinkers(2 movies he scored music for, ULiyin Osai and Dhanam, in 2008 figured in my Bottom 10 list) Ilaiyaraja finally has a high-profile movie. Naan KadavuL's music is not flashy but it evokes a serious, somber mood that fits the typical atmosphere in Bala's movies. Almost all the songs have a religious touch. Pichai Paathiram... is soulfully sung by Madhu Balakrishnan and is very meaningful, particularly in the second stanza. Amma Un Pillai... is instantly catchy since it uses the tune of the memorable Maatha Un Kovilil.... A few lines from that original also appear in the album. Shreya is superb as usual in Kannil Paarvai... while Ilaiyaraja sings Oru Kaatril..., which employs the same tune. Om Siva Om... is rousing and is the one I'm most looking forward to in the film. While the soundtrack has raised my expectations, I'm also enthused about its background score and am expecting quite a few goosebumps, courtesy Ilaiyaraja.

Bala has defied the popular trend so far with movies made on his terms that still turned out to be critical and commercial successes. Let's hope Naan KadavuL joins this short list.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


With a long line of inane comedies in Hindi, Priyadarshan has been virtually unrecognizable as the director who made all those subtle, sensitive comedies in Malayalam a long time ago. But even for those familiar with the director's earlier works, Kanchivaram comes as a complete surprise. Set among the weaver community in the city of Kanchivaram in 1948, it is a sensitively-crafted emotional tale about a father's ordeal to keep a promise he makes to his daughter.

The silk weavers in Kanchivaram are too poor to afford the saris they themselves weave. Vengadam(Prakashraj), a weaver, had proudly proclaimed that he would bring his wife home draped in a silk sari. He was unable to do that but promises his newborn daughter that he would marry her off in a silk sari. He is determined to keep that promise but its not going to be easy.

Kanchivaram - or is it Conjeevoram, as the board on a bus proclaims? - lays bare the sorry plight of weavers in those times. As they are paid a pittance(a weaver is paid Rs. 7 for a saree that is sold for Rs. 800) and are unable to see their own labor of love being worn, it is clear that they are being exploited. And what makes it more powerful is their complete acceptance of their plight. They find happiness in the smallest things and the times when they are the happiest - like when Prakashraj gets a measly bonus or when he and Shreya steal a peek at a woman wearing the saree he wove - is when their plight really touches us.

More than anything, Kanchivaram is about a father's love for his daughter. Prakashraj is an honest, idealistic man who genuinely cares about the plight of the weavers. But he indulges in actions that are wrong and takes steps that are not in the weavers' best interests. We see that every one of these actions is an attempt to make good on a difficult promise he made to his daughter. His love for his daughter towers over everything else and in conveying that love, the movie is less overt but more compelling than movies like Abhiyum Naanum, which dealt with the theme in a more straightforward, obvious fashion.

The story is told in flashback but in segments, as Prakashraj reminisces about his past while being taken home from jail. This technique is a bit overused now but the way some happening(a baby crying, rain falling on the windshield, etc.) in the bus triggers each of Prakashraj's memories feels natural. With this technique, Priyadarshan avoids the story getting a disjoint or incomplete feel since our memories about our past usually bubble up to the surface in a rather disjointed fashion. And the characters on the bus, like the cop fretting over his badge being torn off from his cap, get their few minutes too. But the way Priyadarshan foreshadows upcoming events feels a little overt. For instance, when Prakashraj chides his daughter about misplacing the bottle of rat poison, we know that it is going to play a part later and when it does, its a little disappointing.

After keeping things low-key for most of the movie, Priyadarshan handles the final portions in a slightly heavy-handed manner. He drags a few of the scenes on for more time than needed and that dilutes their impact somewhat.

Prakashraj finally gets a role deserving of his talent. After so many movies where he hammed his way through cliched villain roles and over-the-top sentimental roles, he puts his heart into this role. He plays it softly but is able to bring forth a quiet intensity when needed. Whether its the love he pours on his daughter or the passion he shows when talking about communism, he is excellent. Shreya Reddy looks the part and provides good support to Prakashraj. The rest of the cast does well too with the actor playing Prakashraj's friend catching the eye. M.G.Sreekumar's background score reminds us of a couple of other scores(like from Naayagan) at times but the one song is very melodious and suits both radically different situations it is played in.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Arya's Next

Among the many things I admire about Hollywood is the refusal of their actors to be stuck with a certain image. I've always thought that this was particularly evident in the case of their heroes like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Though universally acknowledged as good-looking studs, they rarely act in romantic comedies that capitalize purely on their looks and are always on the lookout for roles that offer variety.

So far, Arya has shown himself to be in the same mould. Though he quickly earned the tag of heartthrob after movies like Arindhum Ariyaamalum and ULLam Ketkume, he hasn't stuck only to soft, romantic roles that exploit - and build - his pin-up boy image since then. As his role of a rowdy in Pattiyal or the role of the auto driver in Oram Po showed, he hasn't shied away from roles that force him to hide his suave good looks. He's at it again, taking on the role of a long-haired, bearded sadhu in the upcoming Naan KadavuL. And following that, he is back to his original self in Vishnu Vardhan's Sarvam, which is supposed to be a youthful love story.

We only need to think of Arvind Swamy and Abbas to remember what happens to heartthrobs who get stereotyped. Arya seems to be avoiding that route so far and just for that, I hope both these movies click.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

RIP - Nagesh

Tamil cinema's evergreen comedian Nagesh passed away yesterday in Chennai. Arguably Tamil cinema's finest comedian, he was one of the few actors whose demise can be described with the phrase 'the end of an era'.

Nagesh was undoubtedly a gifted comedian. A single move - like the one where he widened his eyes and shrugged his shoulders simultaneously when he was surprised - was enough to make us laugh and his facial expressions, body language and voice came together to reveal incredible comic timing in movie after movie. But 'comedian' would be too tight a slot for him. He was an amazing dancer with some unique, trademark movies and a superb character actor too.

I haven't seen too many films where Nagesh appeared purely as a comedian. Ofcourse I've heard of his hilarious comedy tracks, his perfect comic chemistry with Manorama in numerous movies and his indispensable part even in movies that starred MGR and Sivaji. But I haven't personally seen too many of those movies. But remembering the old adage Oru Paanai Sotrukku Oru Soru Padham, his role in ThiruviLaiyaadal is proof enough of his comic genius. His role as the impoverished poet Tharumi in that film is legendary and it is almost certain that his sequence will figure in any Tamil cinema viewer's list of favorite comedy sequences of all time. The initial mix of disbelief and disdain, the grudging admiration for Sivaji's talent after the questioning, the grief at losing the prize and the subsequent anger at Sivaji were all emotions that Nagesh brought out inimitably and together, they made it one of Tamil cinema's most memorable roles.

I'm more familiar with the movies where he was more than just a comedian. He had the central role in movies like Neerkkumizhi(where he played a terminally ill patient in a hospital), Edhirneechal(where he played an orphan in a large building housing many families) and Server Sundaram(where he played a waiter who went on to become a successful hero) and proved that he could make us cry just as well as he could make us laugh. Not that these directors never tapped his comic prowess. He was hilarious as the husband in one of the three moviestar-obsessed couples in KB's Bama Vijayam and as the aspiring director in Sridhar's Kaadhalikka Neramillai(his narration of a horror story to a scared Balaiah is another of Tamil cinema's unforgettable comedy segments).

If it was KB who gave Nagesh his best roles earlier, it was his student Kamal who gave him his most memorable roles in the last stage of his career. Whether it was playing a villain in a comic vein that went perfectly with the film's tone in Aboorva SagodharargaL, a greedy manager in Michael Madana Kamarajan, a father broken-hearted by his daughter's suicide in Nammavar or a drunk make-up artist in Avvai Shanmugi, Nagesh brought his experience and unique portrayal to every role and made it his own. So it was fitting that he was last seen in Kamal's Dasaavathaaram.

Nagesh may have passed away but the laughs he gave us will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in peace...