Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Coming Soon - Ayan

Tamil cinema has recently seen smaller films like Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu succeed and highly-hyped films from big stars fall like nine pins. But the expectation that accompanies a film by a big star will never vanish(which is probably why they became stars in the first place!). When such a film also has a promising director, an up and coming heroine, great music and a reputed production company behind it, the expectations turn much higher. That's the enviable position that Ayan, which is releasing this Friday, is in.

Ayan is Surya's next release after the successful Vaaranam Aayiram. Every new release of the actor once again reminds me of his incredible transformation into a star. The nondescript, plain actor who we saw in movies like Nerukku Ner and Poovellaam Kaettuppaar is definitely a bona fide star now and he has worked hard for it. With his strong acting talent, good looks and much-improved dancing and stunt skills, he has turned into a well-rounded actor who can handle romance, drama, comedy and action with equal ease. From the looks of the trailer and the buzz about the movie, it looks like Ayan will give him the opportunity to once again demonstrate his proficiency in atleast three of those fields and please his fans. He is paired here with Tamanna has so far appeared only in a few movies. But her list of projects tells us that we will be seeing a lot more of her soon. Her last two movies, Kalloori and Padikkaadhavan belonged to vastly different genres and showed us that she could carry off both a strong, author-backed role and a masala film heroine role equally well. Going by the importance awarded to the heroine in K.V.Anand's previous movie, she will probably have a bit of both in Ayan. The film also features Prabhu and Akashdeep Saigal, who is apparently a very popular television actor in North India.

Ayan's director K.V. Anand is only one film old as director but was really well-known as a cinematogapher before that. Apart from winning the National award for his very first film Thenmaavin Kombathu(the Malayalam original of Muthu), he has wielded the camera for many high-profile movies like Kaadhal Desam, Mudhalvan and Chellamae. He turned director with Kanaa Kanden, a nice romantic thriller. With a clever concept, a charming lead couple whom we could root for, a really detestable villain and several effective suspenseful moments, it was an intelligent, entertaining movie. After once again taking up cinematography duties for Sivaji, he now back as director with Ayan. He has said that the film touches upon a theme never before seen in Indian cinema and considering his work in Kanaa Kanden, we can treat his words as more than just the hyperbole every director indulges in before his film's release. He has assembled a top-notch team to assist him. Harris Jayaraj has come up with his usual collection of faintly familiar but undeniably catchy tunes and the action has been choreographed by a team that has worked on Hollywood films.

It is quite rare for a movie to be looked forward to by almost everyone. With an almost universally-liked hero, a familiar but fresh heroine, a cinematographer-turned-director with a good track record and a hit soundtrack, Ayan belongs to that small group. Lets hope that it meets all those expectations and turns into a blockbuster.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quantum of Solace

Casino Royale gave James Bond a completely fresh start in quite the same way that Batman Begins restarted the Batman series. It started again at the beginning and in keeping with the times when even superheroes needed to be more complex and angst-ridden, it made Bond more human and hence more realistic compared to the almost superhuman spy we had gotten used to after previous outings. But Quantum of Solace carries things too far. With almost none of those unique trappings we've come to love about Bond, it is barely recognizable as a Bond film and hence, rather disappointing.

QoS begins almost immediately after Casino Royale as Bond takes Mr.White back for questioning. Mr. White soon escapes and Bond takes off after him. While he is primarily driven by revenge, he also learns about a secret organization called Quantum and a man named Dominic Greene, who is artificially creating a drought in Bolivia.

This is a film where Bond never says "Bond, James Bond", he doesn't order his drink "shaken, not stirred" and he utters no puns or one-liners. Q, along with his array of fancy gadgets, is absent as is Moneypenny. The familiar James Bond theme music is muted as we get only slight hints at a few places and the filmmakers have also dispensed with the usual opening shot of Bond shooting at us from the white circle before the circle is covered with blood. So QoS seems to take an almost perverse pleasure in not giving us what we expect from Bond.

Ofcourse, what we do get are other Bond staples like exotic locations and impressive action setpieces. Bond globetrots quite a bit as he pursues Greene and Quantum. The first footchase is spectacular and though none of the other action sequences match up to it, the airplane escape and the boat chase are well-staged. Olga makes a nice Bond girl. She is smart and sexy, has a valid reason for tagging along with Bond and has her own backstory as she is driven by revenge too. Mathieu Amalric, who reminds us of Steve Buscemi, makes a rather weak villain and his actual plan seems more suited to a corporate thriller than a Bond film. Naturally, his final showdown with Bond isn't particularly energetic.

I was one of those who was happy with the new Bond in Casino Royale. But the new direction he seems to be going in is making me wish we had the old Bond back.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Feeling Good!

When I watch a movie, my own likes, dislikes, preferences and biases affect my opinion - and hence my review - of the movie. Regular readers should be able to identify what these are quite easily. Surprising twists, for instance, rank pretty high on my list of likes while vulgarity, whether blatant or presented under the cover of presenting reality, is a pretty strong reason for me to dislike a movie. Every viewer brings his/her own set of likes/dislikes to the table when watching a movie and this influences his/her interpretation of the movie. Naturally, this could lead to differing opinions about the same movie.

Most reviews of mine have about an equal number of people agreeing and disagreeing with them. Reviews that an overwhelming majority of readers agree with(like the review of Vaaranam Aayiram) or disagree with(like the Aegan review) are rare. But there are certain categories in which the movies consistently evoke a different reaction from me and from other viewers. One of these categories is 'films by Vikraman'(my 3-star rating and review of Vaanathai Pola probably holds the record for leading to the most number of "What were you thinking?!"-type emails) and what leads to the difference in opinion about these movies is what I like to call the 'feel-good factor'.

Unlike aspects like twists and vulgarity, the 'feel-good factor' is not easy to define. A feel-good film is more often than not, a romance or a drama. It is life-affirming or atleast highly positive and looks at the bright side of life. It is predominantly filled with good-hearted characters. While some sadness or disappointments are not out of question, it doesn't dwell on them and offers positive solutions. It offers little or no action or masala and glamor and vulgarity are definite no-nos too. It contains a message and definitely ends on a positive note. Most importantly, it puts a smile on our lips and cheer in our hearts and sends us out of the theater in a better mood than we entered it in. Off the top of my head, some of the feel-good films in recent times would be Raman Thediya Seethai, Mozhi and Parthiban Kanavu.

One of the leading proponents of the genre of feel-good films is director Vikraman. Right from his first film Pudhu Vasandham, he has created films that obeyed all those guidelines I mentioned before. He extolled the virtues of a platonic friendship in Pudhu Vasandham, placed love on a pedestal in Poove Unakkaaga, explored the gentle dynamics of a loving family in Vaanathai Pola, showed us the truth in the adage 'Behind every successful man there is a woman' in Suryavamsam and illustrated the importance of both friendship and love in a man's life in Priyamaana Thozhi. And he did so in clean, soft films.

Vikraman is definitely old-school. His movies have always been a small step up from stage dramas and a sense of style or visual flair is non-existent. Sentiments are quite loud, cliches abound and the movies are quite predictable. Songs are mediocre and the song sequences are plain and unimaginative. But the aforementioned feel-good factor usually overrides these factors for me. That is why I loved Poove Unakkaaga, Suryavamsam and Vaanathai Pola and liked his other movies like Priyaamaana Thozhi more than the average viewer. And that is also why I'm looking forward to his next film Mariyaadhai probably as much as a Vijayakanth fan is!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Punnagai Mannan

K.Balachander loved to focus on complex relationships and the complications that arose out of them. Whether it was a father-son pair falling in love with a daughter-mother pair or the other woman intruding into a happy family, he loved to pit strong characters against one another and explore the emotional fissures that created because of that. So when he makes a full-length love story like Punnagai Mannan, it should come as no surprise that its not a candyfloss romance that follows the usual Tamil cinema romance template.

When the film opens, Sethu(Kamalhassan) and Nandhini(Rekha) are lovers who are spending their last minutes together before committing suicide. But when they jump together, fate conspires to keep Sethu alive while Nandhini plunges to her death. A devastated Sethu is convinced to not try and kill himself again by his uncle Chaplin Chellappa(Kamalhassan) but turns into a quiet, moody recluse. On the anniversary of Nandhini's death, Sethu runs into Malini(Rekha) at the same spot where Nandhini died and dissuades her from committing suicide. Malini falls for him after this and enrolls in the dance school where Sethu is working as a teacher.

Someone who watches Punnagai Mannan without being familiar with KB's long resume could be forgiven for thinking that KB was his generation's Bala. Inspite of the cheery title referring to a king of smiles, this is a film that has little for us to smile about. It starts and ends with death, both its main romances are doomed, its protagonist comes from a rather dysfunctional family headed by a drunkard, polygamous father, its heroine is a refugee from Sri Lanka and even the one character modeled on one of the most iconic comic characters of all time, has taken on the image to hide his own sad past. The film is not relentlessly downbeat or depressing like one of Bala's films but no one's going to mistake it for a feel-good romance.

But inspite of the sadness in the background, the film can be considered positive since it is essentially about the power of love. Kamal has loved and lost and become dead emotionally but it is again love that resuscitates him. He goes through an entire gamut of emotions during this journey of romantic rebirth - he is devastated by Rekha's death; he blames himself for being alive; he is irritated by Revathi's actions; and he experiences feelings of guilt about abandoning Rekha as he feels the stirrings of love in his heart once again. But eventually, love triumphs over all those feelings.

Tamil cinema has always trumpeted the once-only nature of love(it was spelt out most famously by Vijay in Poove Unakkaaga as he compared love to a flower which once withered, can never bloom again). Death, rather than the reemergence of love, is the choice if love fails. So KB and Kamal walk a dangerous tightrope with the story here and they navigate it without crashing down. The revival of love in Kamal's heart has been portrayed naturally and believably as it appears against his wishes and the way he grapples with his conscience and guilt adds a new dimension to the romance. The sequence where he finally admits his love is exquisitely handled with Kamal's performance and Ilaiyaraja's music bringing out the mood and situation perfectly.

Within a span of five minutes, Kamal and Rekha manage to show us the extent of their love(what is really amazing they do this though we have no idea of who they are and what their backgrounds are). Kamal is at his romantic best in this sequence. Though Kamal and Revathi have a lot more time, their romance doesn't possess the same depth. But the two do make it easy for us to simply accept it. Revathi is sweet but persistent and we can see why she is able to enter Kamal's closed heart. And Kamal's sadness and confusion are easily expressed in his eyes and body language. The understated romance between Kamal(as Chaplin Chellappa) and Srividya is also a similar kind of love since this Kamal too has lost the love of his life. The romance is spelt out late and the two have only a couple of scenes together. But their characters are so endearing and the car ride during which he expresses his love and she accepts it is so sweet that they seem made for each other and make us wonder why we didn't see it coming.

I have found that in order to be effective, a long build-up has to culminate with a positive payoff(like in Kaadhal Koattai) while tragedy has more impact when it is sudden and unexpected(Sethu is a fine example of this). Punnagai Mannan raises the tension with a long build-up but then disappoints by closing things off in tragic fashion. The impact of the happening is greatly diluted because of the way it is presented(KB did the same thing in his last film Poi) and the end almost feels anti-climactic.

While song and dance have been an inseparable part of Tamil cinema since its beginnings, films that could be termed musicals have been rare. Punnagai Mannan is not one considering the traditional definition of one i.e. it doesn't have extravagantly staged numbers; it doesn't replace dialog with song; and it doesn't make its characters sing to one another when talking would have sufficed. But what it does do is treat the music as an integral part of the movie. Probably realizing that, Ilaiyaraja delivered one of his best albums. The songs here are not separate entities that were composed first - following a template such as 1 intro song, 3 duets and 1 pathos number - and then thrust into the narrative at moments where the director thought viewers could most use a bathroom or cigarette break. They are used to convey emotions at times when words just won't do. Its Kamal-Rekha's urgent passion that is on display in the wonderfully melodious Enna Satham..., Revathi's stubbornness that finds an outlet in the fast Kavidhai Kelungal..., her happiness that she has broken through Kamal's barriers that shines through in the cheerful Vaan Megam... and Kamal's jealousy that is expressed in the fun Mamavukku.... These numbers definitely convey those emotions in a much more forceful fashion that dialogs could've done. Music plays an important part right upto the end as Kamal and Revathi, on the car ride after their wedding, sing a medley of all the songs, with the slow ones transformed into more upbeat versions.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Ennai Theriumaa, Perumal and Yaavarum Nalam are now online @ bbreviews.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Older Child

Here's a conversation that took place in my house today morning.

Mom: What do you guys want for lunch?
Kavya: Idli
Karthik: Pasta
Mom: I can't make two lunches. Karthik, I'll give you idli.
Karthik(with tears in his eyes and anger in his voice): I WANT pasta!
Mom: Ok. Kavya, can you take pasta today?
Kavya: Ok.

The above exchange, in different forms, has played out several times over the last 3 years or so and is symptomatic of the fact that the older sibling has a rather tough time in a household with more than 1 child.

I've seen in many households that the younger child, simply by virtue of being born later, gets his/her way most of the time. And its no different in ours. Like when Kavya and Karthik play together. Kavya is expected to share her toys and give them up when her brother wants to play with them while her requests for his toys make us advise her on the virtues of sharing and remind her that she's too old for his toys anyway. Or during dinner time. Karthik hates coming second and so we ask Kavya to eat slowly (or act as if she is still eating even though she has finished ) just so he can have the pleasure of finishing first. And then we ask to bear things patiently when he rubs it in her face.

Its easy to see why this happens. At 3 1/2 years, Karthik is still in the phase when even the naughty things he does are cute. Its still cute when he tells on Kavya or throws a tantrum. So most of the things he does are explained away with "he's just a baby". And because he starts crying real easily, he gets first - and sometimes, only - dibs on most things. So even when Kavya shouts at him after he has teased her or snatched her book or crumpled her papers or hit her, our first reaction is to console him and scold her.

The problem is that we tend to forget that Kavya, who is 7 1/2 years old, is a child too. Just because she is an older sister, we expect her to display maturity beyond her years when she is dealing with him. We expect her to be patient, never get angry, pat him on his back when he does something good, ignore his mistakes, not let his taunts get to her, never raise her hand but come and let us know when he hits her... the list is endless. As I've mentioned before, Kavya is a model big sister who loves her brother and enjoys playing with him. She even gets jealous when he plays with his cousin sister and genuinely misses him when he's not around. But as a kid, she does get irritated when he irritates her. And she gets chided for that.

Not that being an older child has no advantages at all. Until the younger one is born, Kavya had our undivided attention while Karthik, from the moment he was born, has had to share us with his sister. But there are undoubtedly more times, like today morning, when I feel that the first-born has it rather tough.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Yaavarum Nalam

Horror has for long been a neglected genre in Tamil cinema, with the few rare entries being marked by unoriginal scripts, poor production values and bad special effects, all of which contributed to a complete lack of genuine scares. Things have gotten a little better recently and 2007's Sivi was a commendable entry with some good scares. But it was still dogged by some of the shortcomings of the earlier horror films. Yaavarum Nalam avoids those shortcomings also. Suspenseful and sensible, it may well be the film that finally bestows legitimacy on the horror genre in Tamil cinema.

Manohar(Madhavan) has just moved into apartment 13B in a highrise along with his family, which consists of his wife(Neetu Chandra), his brother Manoj and his family, and his mom(Saranya). Strange things seem to happen in the house right from the beginning but Mahohar dismisses them as a string of unfortunate coincidences. But he is forced to change his opinion when he notices that a new serial on TV mirrors his own life rather closely.

The movie works mainly because it treads the line between horror flick and thriller very well. While the underlying story may be a horror story, the movie doesn't trumpet itself as a horror movie and avoids resorting to the cheap thrills and scares we usually associate with the genre. There are very few 'Boo' moments or scary images (though opportunities abound for both) and most of the violence is offscreen. In their place, the movie develops atmosphere, a sense of dread and good suspense. So the film differs from other horror movies in that its intent is to tell the story of a man who is scared and not to scare us.

The film incorporates an original, intriguing premise in the way the serial mimics Madhavan's family and life. The other occurrences(the photos, the lift, etc.) that point to everything not being quite right are creepier but they are somewhat routine horror movie material. The life-serial parallel is a very original concept that keeps the screenplay moving while ratcheting up the suspense. As Madhavan, abandoning his beliefs, begins to look to the serial as a prognosticator of upcoming events, the serial basics so familiar to us, like the cliff-hanger episode conclusions, are employed cleverly in the story.

Horror movies, by nature, require some suspension of disbelief. We need to buy into some things and accept certain happenings without questioning their plausibility. This is required of us in the case of Yaavarum Nalam too. We can't, for instance, question how the TV serial characters are able to acquire the sets and other accoutrements needed for the serial. Or why, since they are later shown to be able to communicate with another character, they don't simply communicate with Madhavan instead of setting up the elaborate charade on TV. Such things related to these characters are easy to accept because of their very nature but when it comes to characters who are more grounded in reality, we become more stringent, which is why it feels odd that nobody, other than Madhavan, inspite being avid serial watchers, spots the parallels between the serial and their life.

The movie is in familiar territory when it finally reveals what's behind the strange things happening to Madhavan and the past events and their connection to Madhavan are a staple of horror movies. But it brings the pieces together in a way that resolves loose ends and answers most questions. The identity of the person behind the events is a big surprise inspite of there being only a few characters and the way the clues scattered all along are brought into the picture is very clever. The fact that the TV serial foreshadows upcoming events is used right upto the end to induce suspense and surprise.

Madhavan is sincere and believable as the harried man. His camaraderie with his family feels natural and he is intense as required when driven to get to the bottom of things. The movie pretty much revolves around him and so few others in the cast make an impression. Saranya evokes a few chuckles with her now-familiar dialog delivery. The film follows the trend of recent Hindi movies by picturizing the Sexy Mama... number as a music video and tagging it to the end of the film as the end credits roll. Its a good decision since the song wouldn't have fit anywhere else in the movie. Kaatrile... is aesthetically picturized while Kodaiyin Veyyilil... is just generic and catchy enough be the the serial's title song. P.C.Sreeram creates the claustrophobic atmosphere that the movie deserves and the innovative camera angles(like at the start where we are introduced to all the characters from behind or under everyday appliances) catch our eye.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Thanks Again!

Yesterday, March 7, was this blog's 4-year anniversary. I definitely didn't think this blog would see its 4th anniversary when I started it. I started blogging simply because everyone else seemed to be doing it and not because I possessed some extraordinary, useful knowledge that I just had to share with the rest of the world. The blog seemed like a natural extension of bbreviews; an opportunity for me to write even more about one of my passions - Tamil cinema. But as I continued to blog, I admit that I began to enjoy the interactivity that the blog offered. I enjoyed the enthusiastic comments, the interesting discussions, the entertaining arguments and the fun trivia that the posts led to. That is the sole reason why the blog has hit the 4-year mark. And its been a lot of fun. So once again, a big 'Thank You' for visiting inspite of the site's staunch policy to focus on the trivial and the frivolous.

I mentioned in the 3-year anniversary post last year that I wasn't so confident about the blog seeing the next anniversary since there was a general lack of excitement about Tamil cinema at that time. But it has made it. And things seem a little better this year at this point in time with the general quality of movies released so far being a tad better and a more exciting roster of upcoming movies, both near-term(Sarvam, Ayan, Kanthasamy, Sultan) and far(Endhiran, Thalaivan Irukkiraan, Asal), to look forward to. So, though I have a couple of things in mind - like for instance, reviewing more older movies - I'll avoid making any predictions about the future contents or the longevity of the blog and simply say that "we'll see how it goes".

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Its a Mad Mad Mad March!

If Sify's release schedule for Tamil films in March is to be believed, fans of Madhavan have a lot to look forward to this month. The actor, after a relatively long break with no release in 2008, is back with a bang with three films slated to hit theaters this month. His lack of interest in confining himself to one genre and doing only 'safe' films is evident from the fact that two of his films are horror films and the other one is a romantic comedy.

First off the blocks is the bilingual Yaavarum Nalam(13B in Hindi) which is releasing tomorrow. While the very fact that it belongs to the horror genre, one of the neglected genres in Tamil cinema, is reason to rejoice, the film has further raised expectations since it is supposed to thrill and chill us without resorting to the usual cliches that one finds in horror films. The film has a pretty good soundtrack from Shankar-Ehsaan-Roy with the Sexy Mama... number being the best of the album. The trailer is also good, with some memorable images and scenes befitting a good horror film.

Second on Sify's list is Guru En Aalu, the remake of the old Shah Rukh Khan-Juhi Chawla hit, Yes Boss. The original was a light, candyfloss romance that forced SRK to choose between love and ambition as he fell for the same girl his boss fell for too. Guru En Aalu stars Mamta Mohandas as the love interest and Abbas as the boss. With direction by Selva, music by Srikanth Deva and the movie being marketed as a comedy, I don't have much hopes about this one and so it is the movie I'm looking forward to the least among the 3.

Finally, there's Naan AvaL Adhu, another horror film. This one was originally supposed to be a remake of the Hindi film Darling, with Fardeen Khan and Isha Deol. Darling tried to be a horror-comedy as Fardeen accidentally killed Isha and then began to be haunted by her unhappy ghost. But the script is supposed to have undergone some changes keeping Madhavan's image in mind. The Tamil version stars Shamita Shetty and Sadha alongside Madhavan and is directed by Kona Venkat, who is making his debut. Just the theme makes this one interesting.

If these 3 movies release as planned, March is definitely gonna be Maddy's month and his fans are gonna be a happy bunch. Let's hope that the box-office results of these movies keeps them smiling for a while.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ashokavanam/Raavan Pics

Finally, we get some solid proof on the progress of Manirathnam's ambitious Ashokavanam/Raavan in the form of these photos(more photos here, thanks Raapi) from the shooting of the star-studded film in Calcutta. The focus of the photos in the feature is definitely on Aish but a couple of other faces familiar to us have been captured too in Vikram and Prithviraj(the latter has been captured from a much more visible angle than the former though).

Though the Hindi version is titled Raavan, I kinda assumed that the hero(played by Abishek Bachan/Vikram) in Mani's take on the Ramayana would still be Ram. But the captions for the photos here say that Vikram plays Ram in Hindi and Prithviraj plays the same role in Tamil. Several news reports have said that Vikram and Prithviraj are playing negative roles in the Hindi and Tamil versions respectively. So Ram is the bad guy in these versions spun by Mani? Interesting...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cinemakshari 3 - Solution

Almost all readers who emailed answers did get the movies right and I have responded individually to each of you. But for the sake of closure, here is the solution for Cinemakshari 3 (this edition didn't get any complaints about the difficulty level of the clues. So unless those who thought it was too difficult chose to keep quiet about it, I take it that providing just the years made things quite interesting).

Indru nee NaaLai Naan (1983)
Naan AvaL Adhu (In Production)
Adhey KaNNgaL (1967)
KaNNiraindha KaNavan (1959)
KaNavane KaN Kanda Dheivam (1955)
Dheiva Thaai (1964)
Thaai Veedu (1983)
Veettoda MaappiLLai (2001)
MaappiLLai Vandhaachu (1992)
Vaa Arugil Vaa (1991)

Unfortunately, I can't think of a way of determining a winner for this game. So, hoping that you believe in the old proverb that "participation is the biggest prize", the following is simply the list, in chronological order, of readers who got it all right.


Partial Solution came from:
Arunram (missed 3 since he guessed Dheiva Magan instead of Dheiva Thaai)

Thanks for playing!