Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Vaamanan gained some notoriety when its hero Jai, promoted to solo hero status after acting in multi-hero films like Chennai 600028 and Subramanyapuram, singled it out as the only one, out of the 3 or 4 he was acting in, that had a chance of becoming a hit. But the film doesn't seem deserving of such confidence on Jai's part. A thriller that tackles the familiar theme of an innocent man caught up in situations beyond his control, it does have smarts and suspense but the uneven pace and the lack of originality come in the way of it being a total success.

Anbuchezhian(Sampath), a politician, kills a competitor for the CM's post but unknown to him, the deed iscaptured on tape, which is now in the hands of an ad-film director Vinodh. When he comes to know of the tape, Anbu is desperate to get it back and goes after Vinodh and his friend Pooja(Lakshmi Rai), a model. Meanwhile Anand(Jai) arrives in Chennai with dreams of becoming an actor and stays with his friend Chandru(Santhanam), a cameraman at a news channel. Anand falls for Divya(Priya) and begins to woo her. He also becomes friends with John(Rahman), who as it turns out, breaks into people's homes for fun.

Vaamanan starts off looking a lot like the recent Muthirai as a political assasination is captured on tape and it becomes obvious that the innocent hero is somehow going to become caught up in the consequences. But unlike Muthirai, it has more on its agenda. While its main storyline is the same, it beefs it up with some additional tracks, giving us the impression that it has a lot more going on.

With Sampath's search for the tape, Jai's mentor/student relationship with Rahman, Jai's romance and the activities of the gang from Bihar, there is so much going on that it sometimes feels like the director has bitten off more than he can chew. Coincidences seem to be the director's primary weapon to move the tracks forward and so a high tolerance for suspension of disbelief is required to buy into the proceedings. The switches between the tracks are also quite abrupt and though we know that they will eventually be connected, none of the tracks earn our involvement because of this.

It is tough to believe but the movie lets its pace lag even with so many things going on. With comedy and romance taking centerstage and the storylines in the tracks not moving forward much, the film slows down considerably in the middle. It comes back to life once Jai's troubles increase. There is a nice surprise and the individual tracks finally show signs of coming together.

While some of the film's earlier plot developments had made us doubt if the director had been inspired by Enemy of the State, the climax clears our doubts as the film resorts to the same MO as the Hollywood blockbuster to allow Jai to extricate himself from the predicament he is stuck in. So, while it is a smart - even if convenient - resolution brought about by an intelligent screenplay, the fact that it is copied takes most of the shine off.

Jai looks a lot like Vijay (something that he seems determined to exploit, like at his audition for a producer) but sounds a lot like Simbhu, which makes for an odd mix. This is the first time that the spotlight is squarely on him and he understandably seems a little rough around the edges. Priya does a neat job though her character comes off looking somewhat flaky in the second half. Lakshmi Rai makes a grand entrance, walking out of the ocean in a bikini, but isn't required to do much after that. Urvasi is hilarious as Priya's naive mom and her cooking audition sequence with Santhanam is really funny. Yuvan's soundtrack has been utilized in a predictable fashion with Edho Seigiraal... taking the top spot. Too many visual flourishes damage Lucky Star... but that trend is not followed for the other numbers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

4 New Reviews

Reviews for Maasilaamani, Manjal Veyyil, Muthirai and Nadodigal are now online @ bbreviews.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The remake train is chugging along merrily and the latest news on the remake front is that Dhanush is going to star in the remake of Rajni's MaappiLLai. I think its too early to remake MaappiLLai since the original still works fine and there are no obvious aspects of it that would benefit from an update. If anything, the confrontations between the son-in-law and mother-in-law will not work as well as they did because of the lack of political overtones that the original film had because of the Rajni-JJ feud. But that aside, it is a gimmicky move with a lot of publicity potential as Rajni's maappiLLai is going to star in the remake of Rajni's MaappiLLai!

One of the fun things in such high-profile remakes is to try and see who among the current lot would fill in for the roles. With Dhanush fixed as the hero, the two other key roles would obviously be those of his wife and his mother-in-law. The heroine's role is generic enough to ensure that any of our current crop of actresses will fit the bill. None of them is ofcourse going to match Amala, who was at her prettiest and sweetest in the film. But its not going to matter whether its Trisha, Nayan, Shriya or Tamannah who falls in love with Dhanush and then moves to the sidelines, making an appearance for the duets, as Dhanush clashes with her mom. The heroine's role was actually pretty flaky as she switched sides between her hubby and her mom with alarming frequency but when has that ever stopped our actresses from taking on a heroine's role in a popular hero's movie.

That leaves the mother-in-law's character. Srividya absolutely nailed it in the original as she recognized the movie for what it was and played the role perfectly. She was just a little over-the-top for the film was first and foremost, an entertainer. At the same time, she was not so out there that the film turned into camp and was serious enough to make the confrontations between her and Rajni sparkle.

The actress for the MIL role has to be played by an actress who is from the previous generation but is still popular and will lend the project some buzz when included in it. MaxDaVinci, on Twitter, had 3 interesting suggestions in Ramya Krishnan, Vijayashanti and Kushboo. Ramya is an obvious choice but her role here will seem just a bit too much like Padaiyappa's Neelambari. Vijayashanti too has played the role of the shrew(coincidentally, also with Rajni, in Mannan) and will be perfect for that side of the character but I'm not so sure she can bring the comic touch that Srividya brought to her portrayal. That leaves Kushboo and I think she would be a good fit. She can definitely play the haughty MIL role with the right mix of sternness and light-heartedness. But my first choice for role would have to be Nadhiya. Inspite of a few questionable choices, she still has an aura of exclusivity and will bring some buzz to the film. She has shown us that she can do strict well and can easily add the dash of comedy that the role needs.

Well, whoever he's gonna go up against, Dhanush has some pretty big shoes to fill having selected this film. I mean, can one imagine Dhanush - or anyone else, for that matter - making this scene work?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Yosemite Hike

Most of the times I've gone to Yosemite, its been as a tour guide with a first-time visitor. So I always did one of the two popular routes in the park - Wawona Road + Glacier Point Road or Tioga Road, which cuts across the park - to hit the must-see attractions like Bridalveil Falls, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, etc. Its been a long-time wish to visit the roads - and attractions - less travelled in the park and on Saturday, I finally got the chance to do that as we made a day trip with the wife's cousin's family.

This weekend was a free - as in, no entrance fee - weekend at Yosemite and the usually crowded park was even more crowded. Parking lots were overflowing and parked cars lined the roadsides close to all the popular spots. Our target was the hike to Vernal Falls but after trying in vain to find a parking space in Curry Village(the closest point to the trailhead), we gave up and the frustration was so hight that we actually decided to head back home. The silver lining was that this made us stop at one of the numerous places alongside Merced River to let the kids cool down and wade in the water. Aside from being fun for the kids, the spot offered a cool view of Bridalveil Falls across the river.

The stop cooled us down a bit and we decided to try our luck once again and so headed back to Curry Village. This time we did find a spot and the day looking better already, we took the shuttle to the trailhead. A beautiful view of the river greeted us right at the start of the trail.

We got the feel of a real hike right at the beginning of the walk as we spotted a rattlesnake coiled up at the base of a tree.

The first part of the hike, which is 0.8 miles long, took us to a footbridge that gave us a view of Vernal Falls in the distance. The trail was at an incline for the most part and so quite strenuous, especially for the kids. The reward though was a pretty sight with the waterfall itself and the creek from it flowing over the rocks.

The womenfolk and the kids headed back from the bridge while Sundar and I pressed on towards the falls. The views ofcourse got progressively better as we walked the trail and were amazing as we got real close to the base of the falls.

The trail got steeper and we had to climb steps. The mist spraying from the waterfall was strong enough to form puddles and make the steps real slippery. But it was a great feeling watching the water thundering down the wall while the mist sprayed on us. The rainbow forming at the base as the water washed over the rocks was just icing on the cake. I'd earned the ire of the rest of the gang for several things that day but those moments made it all worth it :)

Satisfied, we headed back instead of going all the way to the top of the falls. From the parking lot we drove to Glacier Point to try and catch the sunset. We missed it by a few minutes but the colors in the sky were still a nice consolation.

On this trip, I sampled a small part of Yosemite that I hadn't seen before. But its only whetted my appetite to see more of its beauty...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

In the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a key entry. The first three books introduced us to the characters while the fourth and fifth books were more set-up as they laid the building blocks for what was coming. It was the sixth book that upped the ante and kickstarted the climax as Harry finally learned how to vanquish Voldemort and began to prepare himself for it. The film, which expertly mixes romance, drama and action(though not in equal proportions) manages to convey this key aspect and is another solid entry in the series.

Considering the length of the book, it is understandable that some segments have been excised for the movie. Still, the choice of things that have been left out is somewhat surprising. Some interesting twists have been altogether removed while other sequences have been replaced with somewhat weaker ones.

The film's trajectory remains the same as in the other films. The portions that deal with the social side of the lives of Harry, Ron and Hermione translate better to screen. The actors have grown with their roles and our familiarity with them works in the movie's favor. Ron's snarky comments and Hermione's know-it-all responses are rather muted but they do make us smile several times. Most of these smiles come from their romantic feelings and entanglements as they have trouble expressing themselves, do so rather tentatively and experience pangs of jealousy. But we also feel for them when they realize that their feelings aren't reciprocated.

The dramatic parts are weaker compared to the book but its no fault of the actors or the screenplay though. Partly because we know what's coming and partly because there's no time for what's happening to sink in, these portions don't evoke the kind of exhilarated reaction the book did. This happens whether the developments are surprising(as when Harry finds out about the Horcrux) or emotional(as the happenings at the end). The action sequences again don't have this problem and the short Quidditch trials session and the sequence in the cave are superbly picturized.

The book left us waiting breathlessly to see how it all ends. The movie allows us to relive the book and has once again made us wait in anticipation to see the end. That makes it an unqualified success.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Sasikumar sure appears to be the golden boy of Tamil cinema right now. After literally exploding onto the scene (as director) with the raw and powerful Subramanyapuram and then producing the refreshingly fun Pasanga, he has moved to other side of the camera, taking up acting duties in Nadodigal (the film is directed by Samudhirakani, who acted in Subramanyapuram). An ode to friendship, the film walks the line between realism and melodrama but does end up on the right side of that line overall.

Karunakaran(Sasikumar), Chandran(Vijay) and Pandi(Bharani) are thick friends, each having his own ambition and dream in life. Karunakaran, a B.A. (History) graduate, is trying for a government job since that's the condition his uncle has laid out for Karuna to wed his uncle's daughter(Ananya). Chandran's dream is to run a computer institute while Pandi is trying hard to go abroad. Karuna's friend Saravanan shows up and when Karuna and his 2 friends learn of his love affair, they decide to help him.

In the opening scene, Sasikumar, who is trying to join the police force, visually sizes up the height of the potential competitor standing before him in the line. This is humorous and tells us what joke is. But he then proceeds to point out the height disadvantage explicitly with his hand to stress the fact. He repeats the same - convey the situation with his eyes and then make it obvious with his hand - once he moves back to stand behind someone shorter than him. This sequence highlights the fact that subtlety is not one of director Samudhirakani's strengths. He is a director who likes to spell things out to make sure everyone gets the point. But this actually has the opposite effect, diluting the impact. This happens several times throughout the movie and is the biggest reason for the film not having the same impact as Subramanyapuram.

While the movie's focus is on friendship, it doesn't aim to pursue it at the expense of everything else. The fact that all 3 protagonists have a goal in life ensures that we aren't subjected to another movie where the heroes while away their time smoking, singing and dancing, with their only goal being to show how strong their friendship is. And though Sasikumar's family is familiar, with a frustrated dad and a supportive mom, other characters, like Vijay's dad or Bharani's dad, have individuality and aren't submerged under the shadows of the three heroes.

The sequence where Sasikumar and friends snatch Saravanan's lover is a bravura sequence with enough suspense and tension to make a thriller proud. More importantly, the actions of the three friends here illustrate the importance they give to friendship. Very few words are spoken during the time but the intensity with which they perform their tasks works much better than words ever could have, to show us their desire to give their friend what he wants and see him happy.

Melodrama takes over as we see the friends suffer the repercussions of their act. While the first consequences they suffer because of their act really jolt us, things get repetitive after that. There is that aforementioned need to really drive the point home, only in this case its the emotional state of the protagonists rather than a joke. But the result is the same. The initial impact wears off and the sympathy the threesome earned gets quite thin by the time their troubles end.

While the film's core point about friendship does come through, its message becomes a bit jumbled towards the end as it appears to say that friends have a say in the outcome of their selfless acts. But Samudhirakani manages to convey even this in an interesting and acceptable manner and rounds off the film on a humorous note.

Sasikumar has had enough experience in Subramanyapuram to play the devoted friend and fits the role well. He isn't very expressive but has good screen presence. Vijay is mostly serious while Bharani gets a few laughs as the guy looking for love at every chance. Ananya initially overacts terribly with expressions that would make even Jyothika inexpressive but makes an impression once things get serious. Neha looks pretty but doesn't have much to do.Sundar. C. Babu's songs sound good and Sambo Siva Sambo... is perfect in the background during the kidnapping sequence.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Yellowstone Trip

Being a lover of nature, national parks have always been among my favorite travel destinations. Naturally, Yellowstone National Park, the first and the biggest national park in the US, had been atop my travel list for quite some time now. Last week, I could finally take it off the list as we made a 5-day trip to the park. Though fate conspired against us to make us spend much less time in the park than originally planned, we did get a taste of everything the park offered.

We flew into Salt Lake City and spent the next day around there. After viewing the Salt Lake for which the city is named, we went to Antelope Island, which is one of the lake's islands. It offered a good view of the lake itself but little else. A lone bison and a couple of antelopes were the only wildlife we spotted and the most interesting part of the trip was a ranch, established in 1833, that offered a peek into the lifestyle during those times. From there we drove to the Dinosaur Park in Ogden. Filled with a number of dinosaur sculptures(accompanied by sounds from speakers hidden around the park) and having a dinosaur dig area, a play area and a sand box where kids can dig for precious stones, the kids had a real blast in there.

The next day we spent in Grand Teton National Park, which is directly to the south of Yellowstone. The Teton mountain range is the main attraction here and the snow-capped, jagged peaks rising majestically beyond the vast grasslands provided a beautiful view throughout the drive. Inside the park, we took a short ferry ride across Jenny Lake and then hiked about half a mile to the very pretty Hidden Falls.

It was only the next morning that we actually entered Yellowstone Park. What's remarkable about Yellowstone is the diversity that one encounters as one drives through the park. While the vast, green meadows, the pretty lakes, the wildlife and the waterfalls are all present in many national parks, the geothermal areas add something unique to the mix here. The areas with concentrated geothermal features present an amazing sight with the wonderfully colored pools, the hot springs, the mudpots and the geysers. These usually have wooden walkways to take one around the area and offer close-up views of the pools. Apart from these, there are geysers and hotsprings scattered alongside the road at many places.

So the next two days were spent inside Yellowstone itself, driving to the most popular attractions. We visited West Thumb Geyser Basin and Black Sand Basin to see the geothermal features; we saw one eruption of the Old Faithful geyser; we walked around the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces; we took a walk across the Fishing Bridge to see Yellowstone Lake; and we saw Tower Falls and the Upper and Lower Falls. Apart from the colorful pools and barrenly beautiful landscapes in the geothermal basins, the view from the brink of Lower Falls as the water thunders down below us was truly awe-inspiring.

Some photos from the trip can be seen here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Halftime 2009

If we were to pick one word to define Tamil cinema in the 1st half of 2009, it would have to be 'variety'. That's a word we've long yearned to see applied to Tamil cinema and one that our cinema was in dire need of. A quick glance at the roster of films released so far this year illustrates that we've been lucky to get films in genres rarely tackled before. We've had a horror film(Yaavarum Nalam), children's films about children(Pasanga, Pattaalam), a sports film(VeNNilA Kabaddi Kuzhu), a psychological thriller(MeiporuL) and a character-based drama(TN-07-AL-4777). I don't think we've seen films spanning so many genres usually alien to Tamil cinema in such a short span of time for a while now. There was also the very unique Naan KadavuL but then again, Bala's movies have always been in a genre of their own!.

The more heartening aspect about the abundance of variety is that these films were not throwaway, half-hearted efforts where the directors were simply testing the waters. Films like Yaavarum Nalam, VeNNilA Kabaddi Kuzhu and Pasanga were made by directors who knew what they were getting into and were confident about their work. And it showed. And though MeiporuL and TN-07-AL-4777 were not quite in the same league, they were impressive for the fact that the directors displayed the same confidence in their subject and did not resort to compromises in the name of comedy tracks or unnecessary fights under the pretext of making the films more acceptable.

Not all films waded through such uncharted territory though and there were a few, again in different genres, that took us back atleast a couple of decades. Vikraman's Mariyaadhai was hopelessly behind the times and just felt silly while Sarathkumar's 1977, inspite of the ambitious canvas, was more amateurish than films made in the year referred to in the title. Maayaandi Kudumbathaar told an age-old story of enmity between two families while ManjaL Veyyil proved that a romance also could be old-fashioned, reminding us of the tearjerkers of the 80s with its obvious twist, cartoonish villain and sentiment-laden climax.

Our old friend, the masala film, was still alive and kicking at the end of June though. While Villu's failure dealt an early blow to the genre, Padikkaadhavan's decent showing made up for it somewhat. But it was Ayan that really resurrected it. Serving up its masala with smarts and style, it fixed the bad name the genre had accumulated lately. Ofcourse, films like PerumAL, Thee and Rajadhi Raja were there to show why the genre earned its bad name in the first place. Newtonin Moondraam Vidhi was a familiar revenge saga but was surprisingly engaging though it was headlined by S.J.Suryah.

Romance has had a rather weak year so far and has taken a backseat to other aspects even in supposedly romantic movies. While Sarvam, which brought fate into the mix, emphasized style over substance, Guru En Aalu, a romantic comedy, gave priority to silly comedy over romance. Kunguma Poovum Konjum Puraavum tried to elevate a regular romance with realism while Aanandha Thaandavam, with its weak characterization, almost made one glad Sujatha wasn't around to see what his acclaimed novel had been turned into.

Though it were the smaller, unheralded movies that triumphed in the first half, its obviously the big-budget, star- and/or director-driven movies - Aayirathil Oruvan, Kandhasamy, Unnaippol Oruvan, Vettaikkaaran, Adhavan - that once again loom large as we look ahead to the rest of the year. But whether the movies that come out are big or small, lets hope, as always, that the second half is even better than the first...