Saturday, April 30, 2005

Essence of Blogging

Very nice article in The Hindu on blogging. Speaks about blogging as the realisation of the Web's potential and guesses that it will radically alter the landscape of the Web itself. Feels good to be a part, however tiny, of it :-)

First Taal, Now Kisna?

[Pic Courtesy Rediff]

I was quite surprised when Roger Ebert chose Subash Ghai's Taal for the 2005 edition of his Overlooked Film Festival. Though the movie was a commercial hit, I personally found it to be a very ordinary, cliched rich boy-poor girl love story, held up primarily by its glossy look, a gorgeous Aishwarya Rai and foot-tapping numbers by A.R.Rehman. I believed that Taal's sentimental story, traditional ending, sanitized, Bollywood-style romance, extravagant song sequences and grand look prompted Ebert to pick the film, since he considers those elements representative of today's Indian films . The fact that Ebert has not seen many commercial Indian films and having a universally acknowledged beauty(who Ebert drools over) as heroine made Taal's selection easier, I'm sure!

According to a proud Subash Ghai, a shorter version of Kisna, his recent flop with Vivek Oberoi, is to be screened at Cannes this year. He seems to believe that Taal was selected for its quality(has he read Ebert's review?!) and hopes that Kisna too could acquire a life of its own after the Cannes screening!

I have so far stayed away from Kisna for two reasons. One, I have not liked any of Ghai's recent films(I liked Yaadein even less than Taal) and two, it was universally panned as being overblown, boring and long. I have so far avoided renting(for free!) the DVD, even when it was on the shelves. Have any of you seen the film? Are Ghai's hopes for the film's rebirth justified? Is it atleast worth renting?!

Friday, April 29, 2005


[Pic Courtesy Rediff]

"When a bomb explodes, it is terror; when it doesn't explode, it is suspense" - Hitchcock

Its 25 years today since Alfred Hitchcock passed away and Rediff has a fascinating slideshow on the master's life to mark this. I really liked the fact that the slideshow talks more about his personal life(his epitaph, in vintage Hitchcock fashion, reads "I am in on the plot"!) and behind-the-scenes kinda information(his first project was supposed to be about the Titanic!) about his movies rather than an oft-seen 'favorite' list of his movies. Loved the photographs on the slideshow too.

A few years ago, some friends and I went through a 'Hitchcock' phase where we watched a string of his movies over the span of a few weeks. Not surprisingly, I liked every one of them, from the oldest among the ones I saw(39 Steps) to the most recent(Frenzy). Here's the list of all Hitchcock movies I have seen.

The Birds
North by Northwest
The Man Who Knew Too Much
To Catch A Thief
Rear Window
Dial M for Murder
Strangers on a Train
Foreign Correspondent
The 39 Steps

If I was forced to pick a favorite, it would have to be Notorious, followed pretty closely by Psycho. From a technical perspective, I found Rope, with its amazing continuous shots, to be the most fascinating though.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Old Favorite, New Look

One of my weekly calls to India last month found my dad a bit more excited than usual. The reason behind his excitement was soon clear. The print edition of The Hindu had gone through some big changes starting April 14! Having grown up with the newspaper, I was pretty curious about the changes myself. And though my dad was quite descriptive, we all know that a picture speaks a thousand words! Thankfully, the paper's website, though it hasnt changed, carries the print edition changes in detail.

The changes seem to have affected every part of the venerable newspaper, from colored mastheads to new fonts to a different way of presentation and organization. The comments from the readers seem mostly positive though as always, there are some noises of dissent, mostly complaining about what the change means to the culture and tradition of the newspaper.

IMO, it is a necessary step for the newspaper. Today's generation(gosh, that makes me sound so old!) likes everything flashier. And the newspaper cannot afford to overlook the youngsters if it is to keep increasing its readership. Presentation is every bit as important as content in today's world and the new look is definitely more attractive to the eye when compared to the previous, staid appearance. That said, the role model for the update, with the colors, the boxed index on the front page and short news items on the side, seems to be USA Today. I found the new Hindu to resemble USA Today quite a bit.

The Hindu was an inseparable part of my life while growing up. My dad was one of the ol' faithfuls of the paper and naturally, the habit caught on with me too. Superb writing and clean organization made the newspaper a pleasure to read. I was quite passionate about it and have had numerous arguments with readers of the Indian Express, its closest competitor, which I found it to be more sensational and possessing a distinctly lower quality of writing. I've devoured the superb editorials and re-read particularly well-written news items, especially about cricket. In the later years, I also religiously read articles like 'Know Your English' and Art Buchwald's column and spent hours trying to solve the daily crossword. In fact, I used to cut the crossword out to take it with me to college, an act which irritated my dad no end since he liked the paper to be in pristine condition when he began reading it.

Sitting in the verandah of my house, sipping hot coffee and reading The Hindu was a morning ritual that I remember very fondly. Somehow, eating cold cereal while browsing through the paper's website just doesn't feel the same...

Beauty 'Lies' in the Eyes of the Beholder

People magazine is out with its annual list of the 50 most beautiful people (thanx for link, Munimma) and our own Aishwarya Rai is not on there. Backed by Julia Roberts' now famous quote about being the "most beautiful woman in the world" and with the amount of publicity she's gotten this year on American TV, I thought Aish would be a shoo-in for the list this year. Oh well... I guess beauty does 'lie'(as in, not be the truth) in the eyes of People's editors!

And as long as we are talking about beautiful people... Trisha has been signed to play opposite Vikram in the upcoming remake of Mammootty's Thommanum Makkalum, which is now titled Majaa. Trisha has had a wonderful couple of years. She starred in 2003's biggest hit Saamy and 2004 turned out to be even better as she was the common factor in the biggest hits of the year in both Tamil(Gilli) and Telugu(Varsham). 2005 has also started fabulously as she was the heroine in Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, the biggest Telugu hit of the year so far and Tiruppaachi, the only success in our Pongal releases.

Her successful streak in Telugu naturally made her very popular in Andhra. That, combined with the marginal roles she was getting in Tamil(Ji), appeared to have led her abandon Tamil cinema altogether since she had signed no new movies after Thiruppaachi. But she recently signed up for Hari's Aaru with Surya and now she's also gonna be seen in Majaa with her Saamy co-star Vikram. Trisha fanskku majaa thaan!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Kanaa Kanden Audio

Kanaa Kanden has been in the news for a variety of reasons. Its launch was greeted with enthusiasm since it is the directorial debut of respected cinematographer K.V.Anand who won the National award for his very first film Thenmaavin Kombathu and has earned raves for his cinematography in movies like Mudhalvan and Chellame. It features the fresh pairing of Srikanth and Gopika and the eye-catching promotional stills(here's one) spoke well of Anand's talent behind the camera. Subsequent stills became popular since they featured the hitherto homely Gopika, wearing a midriff-baring dress, in some intimate and passionate poses with Srikanth. The movie gained further notoriety when its banner in Chennai, showing Gopika biting Srikanth's chin, had to be removed for being too provocative and close to a school. The latest controversy is over the lyrics of one of its songs, which the censor has asked to be replaced.

The film's audio was launched on April 6 and was well-attended. The album by Vidyasagar features 5 songs.

1. Chinna Chinna Sigarangal...
Apart the repulsive Tsunami mention, the song is quite catchy. it has a nice tune that stays with you and some rhythmic beats. Most of the lines are rather erotic and passionate but there are a few lines that caught my fancy. A rap bit, which ends with the phrase, Move Your A**, is completely out of place.

2. Chinna Ponnu...
Sung by Sayonora Philips in the husky, deep voice used for Kaakka Kaakka's Thoodhu Varumaa... . But this number is fast with emphasis on strong and fast beats. Silly lyrics abound.

3. Kaalai Arumbi...
A very melodious number. For some reason, English words in melodious songs put me off and this one has the word 'pendulum' at just the spot where I was beginning to enjoy the song's soothing melody. But grows on you and is enjoyable nevertheless.

4. Ayyaa Raamaiyaa...
I strongly feel Udit Narayan is the bane of Tamil songs and any song sung by him automatically earns my displeasure. The mediocre tune here has its lyrics further butchered by him (he pronounces Chollai like Choallai just a couple of lines into the song), making this my least favorite number.

5. Thaai Sollum...
A number praising one's mother. An ordinary song whose theme might have made it stand out among the duppanguthu numbers of today. But with the beautiful Aaraariraaro... from Raam still fresh in my mind, it loses out on that count too.

Overall, an average soundtrack that will probably have a few runs in my car stereo(i.e. until I record Anniyan songs!) Kaalai Arumbu... and Chinna Chinna Sigarangal... have the best chance of standing the test of time.

'Old' Mohanlal

Malayalam cinema has been dominated for a long time by two Ms - Mammootty and Mohanlal. While both of them are great actors, I've always felt that Mohanlal is the more versatile of the two. He is equally at ease whether clowning around, dancing or fighting while Mammootty doesn't seem comfortable doing comedy or swinging a leg. But Mammootty definitely has the upper hand when it comes to changing his physical appearance. He manages to alter his hairstyle, look, etc. for each role while Mohanlal essentially looks the same in every film, conveying differences through the strength of his performance. Wearing glasses and twirling his moustache is as far as I've seen him go!

Mohanlal is playing dual roles of a father and son in the upcoming Udayon and the father's role sees him in a very different getup of an old man. Based on the stills and the story, it promises to be an interesting performance.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


[Pic Courtesy IMDb]

Based solely on recommendations from readers Vijays and Victor(both of whom seemed very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the heist genre) in the comments section of the After the Sunset review, I rented Rififi from Netflix. The movie is a cross between a heist movie and a film noir and zoomed right to the top of my list of favorite heist movies.

The four participants in the heist are Tony, Jo, Mario and Cesar. The last mentioned, a safe-cracker, has a weakness for women and that eventually leads to Pierre, a club owner, learning about the men behind the robbery. So he kidnaps Jo's son, promising to return him in exchange for the loot.

The first half of Rififi proceeds like a regular heist movie with the 3 standard story arc components - the participants getting together, planning the crime and executing it. The planning is meticulous and detailed and covers the biggest and most important items(the alarm and the motion detectors) but leaves the smaller details out. The blanks are ofcourse filled in during the heist, allowing us to be surprised the way small things are taken care of. The heist itself qualifies as probably the best picturized heist sequence I have ever seen on film. It is painstaking and hard and those aspects are conveyed very well. Most stunning is the fact that there no background music for the entire half hour. We get to hear every sound that is made by the thieves and their instruments and this gives us the feeling of being actual witnesses to a robbery in progress.

But the heist is not the climax as in most movies in the heist genre but just the midpoint. The movie then shifts into noir as Jo's son is kidnapped. We are completely hooked as Tony tries to track down the boy while Jo is caught between ensuring the safety of his son and parting with the money. The suspense is kept at an incredibly high level throughout and we are never sure how the movie will eventually play out. The climax proves the old adage that crime never pays but also manages to be poignant.

Rififi is an old movie(it was released in 1955), it is in a foreign language(French) with subtitles and is filmed in black and white. These would have probably kept me from watching it if not for the strong recommendations. But at the end, it was exactly those elements that made the movie work. It is precisely because it is set in those days that the movie is realistic and believable. The obstacles the thieves have to surmount(a persistent alarm, motion-sensitive ceiling, etc.) are believable and not complicated and obviously cinematic. Similarly, the props they use(I loved the way they use the umbrella) and the way they use them(hammer wrapped in a towel) in the heist are everyday items and not complicated gadgets that are obviously artificial (Ebert mentioned in his After the Sunset review that the gadgets used are so expensive that there would be no ROI on the heist!). Every step of the heist is logical and well-thought out without any inconsistencies or contrivances. The B&W cinematography enhances the serious nature of the crimes and eventually, of the film itself.

Movies in the heist genre have become fantasies of late. They have protagonists who lead romantic lifestyles, embark upon unrealistically complicated heists to meet challenges, emerge victorious over predictable double and triple crosses and eventually, redeem themselves. Rififi is a stark film where even the main characters have their positives and negatives and we are never sure if they will eventually win. That makes it stand out from the crowd.

Rififi is definitely Terrifific!

PS: Ebert's review in his Great Movies section has some fascinating behind-the-scene details about the film. Most intriguing is the fact that a ban was considered on the film since the incredibly detailed heist sequence would have served as a guide for aspiring crooks!

Saris All Around!

[Pic Courtesy Rediff]

First Elizabeth Hurley and now Oprah... The omnipresent Aishwarya Rai appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and got the famous host to wear the sari she brought along! Oprah's Book-of-the-Month club is hugely popular and any book selected on that gets a huge boost in sales. Wonder if her sari-clad appearance is going to make the dress any more popular...

Oprah said the sari was very sensual. No arguments there :)

Monday, April 25, 2005

License to Trivialize?

Just something I need to get off my chest...

I was listening to songs from Kanaa Kanden during my drive to work today. The first song is Chinna Chinna Sigarangal... , which is currently in some trouble since the censor has objected to its lyrics. The song definitely has a lot of double entendres and its lines are quite naughty but my problem with the song(actually, just one of its lines) is of a different nature. The line in question goes

En Aadaigal Kalaiya Varum Nee Enna Tsunamiyaa?

This line jumped out at me and really irked me. Ever since the tsunami hit our coast in December 2004, the word 'tsunami' has become fodder for our filmmakers. When I was in Chennai in January, I saw posters for a movie being launched with the tagline Ivan Sooriyan Alla, Tsunami. The recently released Mannin Maindhan(scripted by Karunanidhi, no less) has a comedy scene where Vadivelu tries to get a share of the money being distributed to survivors of the tragedy. And a song in Ajith's Ji has the line Naan Ooru, Nee Ennai Adithu Pogum Aaru.

For me, the line in the Kanaa Kanden song was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It gave me the feeling that the tragedy is being trivialized by its usage in such scenarios. Its one thing to, say, use the word to illustrate the magnitude of a personal tragedy or even a person's affected state of mind. But comparing it to a guy who wants to disrobe his lover and using it in a line that rhymes with Kaamachaami seems outrageous to me. Have the songwriters become completely desensitized to this particular tragedy? Will the word and its irresponsible usage not trigger horrific memories for those affected by the tragedy so recently? Is there any limit to the poetic license songwriters can take on real-life events?

Its been 4 years since the 9/11 happenings in the US. But you still will not find any jokes, skits or songs trivializing the incident. And anything that degrades the memory of the day is greeted with widespread outrage(Bill Maher's comment and subsequent retraction and apology is an example). But the situation is different atleast in Tamilnadu. There seems to be no reaction from either the Tamil press or the public to our songwriters referring to the tsunami in any way they can.

I know the word 'tsunami' by itself refers to a natural disaster and not the tragedy in December. But the fact that Tamil cinema has never used the word before kinda links the word rather closely to the recent tragedy. So what do you think? Does the use of the word 'tsunami' really trivialize a tragedy. Or am I overreacting here?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Coming Soon - Anniyan, Godfather

With April 14 come and gone, the next big date for Tamil cinema fans is less than a month away. Producer 'Oscar' Ravichandran has confirmed that Shankar's Anniyan, with Vikram and Sada, will be opening worldwide on May 20. The movie is crucial for both participants since Vikram is coming off a flop Arul while Shankar is aiming to recover from the critical and commercial mauling he received for Boys.

The other movie whose participants have a lot riding on it is Godfather. The film is most crucial for ofcourse its hero Ajith who, after the disastrous Ji, now seems to be at another nadir in his wildly-swinging career. Behind the camera is K.S.Ravikumar, who hasn't had a bonafide hit in a while(his last movie was the Madhavan's Edhiri, an average grosser) and recently missed out on chances of directing both Rajnikanth(the now-shelved Jaggubhai) and Kamalhassan(KSR was the first choice for Vasoolraja M.B.B.S, which ultimately went to Charan). Music is by A.R.Rehman, who too has not had any hits since New and plans to once again concentrate on Tamil this year. The film has had some problems but seems to have resolved them and is making brisk progress with release targeted for July 22.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Superstar Everywhere!

[Pic Courtesy Chandramukhi Official Site]

Chandramukhi is going great guns everywhere...

- Not that there was any doubt but the movie had a 100% opening in TamilNadu with a record-breaking collection in Chennai.

- It is topping the Telugu charts in neighboring Andhra Pradesh

- It has handily beaten Mohanlal's Chandrolsavam which opened the same day and is doing better than the three Vishu releases in Kerala (which is even more surprising considering that CM is a considered an inferior remake of Mohanlal's own Machithrathazhu).

- It is doing great in Karnataka inspite of the still-popular Apthamitra, which is the Kannada remake of Manichithrathazhu.

A Tale of Two Beauties

[Pics Courtesy Rediff and USA Today]

Aishwarya Rai, who has been everywhere in the US these days, was at the opening of Royal Albert Palace, the new Indian eatery at Donald Trump's Trump Taj Mahal Hotel & Casino Resort, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The picture begs for a pun: a model described as a (50kg) Taj Mahal next to a model of a Taj Mahal! Sorry :)

Elizabeth Hurley emceed the Red Hot Pink Party, which raises money for Evelyn Lauder's Breast Cancer Research Foundation, in a sari yesterday. It apparently took her a while to get it on but she was helped by her boyfriend Arun's cousin, who did a lot of "creasing and pinning"!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Fock(er)ing Disappointment

[Pic Courtesy IMDb]

This seems to be a time of disappointing sequels to likeable originals. After the gang of Ocean's 12, it is the turn of the Fockers to disappoint in Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the 2002 hit Meet the Parents. The hilarious original chronicled the travails of Ben Stiller, as he tried to endear himself to his fiance's father Robert De Niro, an ex-CIA agent. The sequel introduces us to Stiller's parents, the Fockers, played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand as Stiller and his fiance's family spend the weekend with their house.

Many films go in for a sequel based solely on the lure of money after the film becomes a bigger hit than expected. But they have already wrapped things up in the first installment and so have little material to deal with in the sequel (sequels like Men In Black II and Bridget Jones Diary 2 all fall in this category). So the sequels often feel unnecessary and end up being a rehash of things seen in the original. In theory, Meet the Fockers actually feels like it has enough material for a solid sequel. It revolves around Stiller's parents, who we never see in the first part, makes them wacky enough to be a complete contrast to the uptight De Niro and casts a couple of likeable and popular stars in the roles. So its surprising that the director still fails to mine anything funny out of this. The movie falls prey to 'sequelitis' i.e. it goes over the top, recycles old jokes, resorts to crude humor and overall, is rarely funny.

The best aspect of Meet the Parents(and for that matter, Analyze This) was that De Niro played it straight. He was funny because he was serious in the midst of all the chaos. He got the laughs without seeming to overtly play for them and the others got the laughs by playing off his seriousness. But here, De Niro is too over the top to be funny. As he wears artificial breasts or opens up the 'command center' in his RV, he begins to parody and ridicule himself and that just ain't funny.

None of the new material in Meet the Fockers is funny. It aims to get most of its laughs from the laidback, devil-may-care lifestyle of Hoffman and Streisand and that works for awhile. But with Streisand's occupation as a sex therapist, the only topic their jokes revolve around is sex. And so they get repetitive and stale after a while. Eventually, the best laughs in the film involve the youngest member of De Niro's family, his grandson. His strict training and his gestures are quite funny and the first word he utters gets the biggest laugh of the movie.

The Fockers are just not worth meeting!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


[Pic Courtesy Jurm Official Site]

Most of Vikram Bhatt's movies have been remakes of Hollywood flicks but though his Jurm does have shades of other English(and Hindi) thrillers, the product as a whole appears to be an original. It is a passable thriller that keeps us entertained inspite of being mostly predictable. The movie opens with Bobby Deol, a rich businessman, accused of killing his wife Lara Dutta in cold blood. As the police grill him about his past, his legal advisor/best friend Milind Soman and Gul Panag, who loves him, are the only ones on his side.

The best part about Jurm is that it realises that it is a thriller. So there is no irritating comedy track and even the romance is kept to a bare minimum with just what is necessary for the plot. We get a decent protagonist to root for as well as despicable villains to hate and the plot goes through enough twists and turns to hold our interest. The flashbacks and court scenes are interesting and the movie is assembled like a good thriller, where we learn more as we go along.

But the movie reveals its secrets a little too soon. Rather than revealing things slowly, it lets the entire cat out of the bag by the halfway point. This does lead to a surprising intermission point but results in the movie being stretched way too long in the second half, when it moves to Malaysia. Bobby Deol's plan, which is interesting in the beginning, soon becomes tedious and its execution depends on some physical impossibilities and fantastic coincidences (to name one, Bobby Deol, a famous businessman who is being chased by the police and has his face in all the papers, is able to travel to Malaysia wearing a cap and sunglasses!) . The climax is also cinematic with a fight in a stadium and a parking garage.

Bobby Deol is quite wooden but since all he is required to do is to look alternately sad and angry, he fits the role. Lara Dutta is impressive in a few scenes. Milind Soman is adequate while Gul Panag looks pretty but is sidelined. One of the songs is a copy of the Aasai Aasai... number from Dhool but is still catchy and the song sequence at the costume party is picturized well. As long as you have some free time, watching Jurm is no jurm!

Star Wars

True to the title that has been bestowed on him, Ilaya Thalapathy Vijay seems to love waging war i.e. a war of words. The Vaa Vaa Vaa En Thalaivaa... number from his latest release Sachein has a line that goes Oru murai jeippadhu sarithiram aagaadhu. This is quite obviously targeted at his professional rival Ajith, highlighting the fact that Attagaasam has been his only success in recent times.

Ever since he yelled "Engadaa unga thalai?" at some goons in Thirumalai, knowing fully well that Thalai is the title Ajith's fans use to refer to their idol after Dheena, Vijay has been taunting Ajith in all his movies. The continued success of his movies at the box-office seems to have made him even more arrogant since his shots have become increasingly direct and mean-spirited(like the dig at Ajith's tree-planting in Sukhran). I was hoping the soft and romantic Sachein would avoid such personal shots but the song proves that this is not the case. Ajith too has struck back in his movies(the Unakkenna... song in Attagaasam) but maybe because his films have been big flops, his responses haven't been as noticeable.

This bad culture of attacking perceived rivals has already crept into the next generation too. Simbhu's 'first-last' line in Manmadhan was aimed squarely at Dhanush and if's [Tamil font required] review is to be believed, his fans interpreted some of the lines he speaks to his girlfriend as personal taunts at Dhanush too.

In this atmosphere of jealousy, personal rivalry and cheap shots, Kamal's interview [Tamil font required] today that focusses on his friendship with Rajnikanth is an eye-opener. Inspite of intense professional rivalry for the most part of their careers, the two stars have been extremely cordial off-screen and have never missed a chance to stress their friendship. In fact, Chandramukhi opens with a 'thanks' to Padmashree Kamalhassan. Kamal talks warmly of this friendship, from his first meeting with Rajni to a whole day the two stars spent together just a few days ago.

Personal attacks onscreen might cheer up an actor's hardcore fans who equate professional and personal rivalry. But to the larger audience, they just make the actor look cheap and label him as someone who would stoop to any level to strike a few cheap shots. It also incites the fans, who naturally vent it out on the fans of the rival star, leading to fights at the theater. It damages the relaxed, fun atmosphere that viewers come to watch movies in and in the long run, will definitely prove damaging to cinema itself. The younger stars, frequently call Rajni and Kamal their role models and ape their styles onscreen. For the good of their own image and the image of Tamil cinema itself, they would do well to learn from them on how to behave offscreen too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Double Dose of Vikram

Not much has been heard about Vikram recently. The talented, born-again actor seemed well on his way to becoming king of the box-office with both critical(Kaasi, Pithaamagan) and commercial(Gemini, Dhool, Saamy) successes. The National award he earned for Pithaamagan didn't hurt either. But his last release Arul, which came with high expectations since it reteamed him with Saamy director Hari, was a dud at the box-office. Worse, Vikram looked disinterested and jaded in the cliched role. He has since been concentrating solely on Shankar's Anniyan, which true to Shankar's track record, has taken a long amount of time to complete and has had its release date pushed back a few times already. But with the Chandramukhi-Mumbai Xpress-Sachein euphoria expected to die down now that the movies have been released, it is reasonable to expect the Anniyan hype to start building.

Vikram's next movie was widely rumored to be a remake of Mammootty-starrer Kaazcha. The film, which revolved around a young boy orphaned by the Gujarat earthquake and taken in by Mammootty, was both a critical and commercial success and earned acting accolades for both Mammootty and the boy. So it seemed like the perfect vehicle for Vikram, who has never shied away from experimenting with a variety of roles. His next project is still a remake of a Mammootty-starrer but the movie is not Kaazcha but Thommanum Makkalum. The film is supposed to be a racy entertainer with all commercial ingredients like comedy, music, dance and stunts and is a box-office success in Kerala. I am a little saddened that Vikram passed on Kaazcha but happy that he finally decided on selecting his next movie after Anniyan!

Vikram was also introduced as the new brand ambassador for Coke yesterday. The new ad with him as a Chennai rowdy sounds interesting and we have to wait and see if the ad series creates the same sensation the Aamir Khan ads(like the recent one with him dressed up as a woman) created in the North.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Thots on Mumbai Xpress

Even Kamalhassan's so-called 'lighter' ventures have always been a few notches above your average Tamil comedy movie. The movies have not depended on slapstick, physical comedy or crude humor to raise laughs. Instead, they typically derive their laughs from chaotic situations, mistaken identities, sight gags and humorous dialogs. Mumbai Xpress is another of Kamal's high-brow comedies. The movie is definitely a few notches above other, especially recent, Tamil comedies and is consistently humorous. But the humor remains on a rather level plane throughout and lacks the highs that would have transformed the film from a good comedy movie to a great comedy film.

Contrary to Kamal's claims prior to the movie's release, Mumbai Xpress knows that its a comedy right from the start. The very nature of Pasupathy's kidnap plan(he flies over the city in plain sight before landing in a schoolyard to kidnap a student) makes this clear. But the plan is crazy enough to allow a lot of things to go wrong. And enough things do go wrong to keep us amused.

A noticeable aspect of Kamal's previous comedies has been the screenplay and the same is true here too. While the kidnapping is quite straightforward, the second half is all screenplay. The twists that lead to Kamal being mistaken for an undercover cop are handled smoothly and naturally and result in some of the funniest sequences in the film. The events that lead to confusion over who or what Mumbai Express refers to, have also been imaginatively thought up. And it is to the screenplay's credit that even offhand comments, like a horse's affinity for paper instead of grass, end up being important in the long run. But Kamal's script fails to make full use of the situations thrown up by the screenplay. Laughs are definitely easy to come. But they rarely come solely out of the scipt. I am thinking hard but while I can remember funny sequences as a whole, I cannot remember any particularly funny bits of dialog.

Romance is given short shrift in the pursuit of comedy. Manisha's character is developed very poorly and we are never sure what her feelings or intentions are. Worse, since her character remains the same till the very end, she just doesn't seem like a good match for the honest and sincere hero. But one has to applaud Kamal's courage in the characterization of a Tamil cinema heroine. While even established directors(Vasanth) dealing with mature love stories(Rhythm) resort to screenplay convolutions to ensure that their heroine is a virgin when marrying the hero, Kamal has as his heroine, an ex-bar dancer and mother to a 10-year old, who is now the mistress to a high-ranking police officer!

Rather than slowing to a smooth stop at the railway station, the movie stops abruptly like someone pulled the chain (with a name like Mumbai Xpress, you knew I had to have atleast one train-related comparison!). In one scene we have Kamal fleeing from the police with his loot and in the next, we see everyone gathered together in harmony to celebrate his launch of a new project. The reels that capture what happened between the two events are probably lying on the cutting room floor somewhere (the fleeting glimpse of the two skimpily clad dancers gives us an idea why!).

Kamal has assembled his usual suspects together for the ride and they deliver. Pasupathy, in his first non-villainous role, gets the laughs by playing it straight. His exasperation at things not going according to plan is responsible for a major part of the laughs in the movie. Nasser, with his pleading voice, is also very good while Manisha looks great but its not a memorable performance. My guess that the soundtrack is a 'situational' album that will grow on me turned out to be only half correct. Both Kurangu Kaiyil Maalai... and Ele Nee Othi Po... play in the background and so require little or no special picturization. Vande Maataram...,whose off-key parts have been replaced by another song to avoid demeaning the national song, is the only number that is helped by the picturization since its both cleverly and hilariously picturized. Poo Poothadhu... has some good choregraphy. Shooting the film in a digital format results in a rather grainy look, especially in scenes that have 1 predominant color. The edges in some of the shots are also blurred.


I'm not sure if the concept of vanity license plates exists in other countries. Here in the US, the name refers to specialized plates you can get from the Motor Vehicles Bureau(for a price ofcourse) that have the letters you want. So people order license plates that mean something and since they are restricted to seven letters or less, they end up being quite cryptic and/or quite clever (I know people in India can pay more to get different plates than the one they have been assigned. This allows them to get plates where the numbers add up to be numerogically favorable).

My car does not have vanity license plates but one of my hobbies while driving is trying to interpret what the vanity plates on other cars are saying. Most are decipherable though some, which may have a completely personal meaning to the vehicle's owners, leave me scratching my head. On my way to work this morning I came across one which I thought was really clever. The car was an Audi A6 and though I didn't see the driver, I think I can safely assume he was an Indian named Aditya. The license plate on the car read AUDITYA. Thats one of the cleverest plates I've seen in a while...

PS: One of Seinfeld's most hilarious episodes involved a mix-up of vanity license plates named ASSMAN!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Woman on Top!

Its celebration time for Tamil cinema! All three Tamil New Year releases, Chandramukhi, Mumbai Express and Sachein, seem to have opened fabulously, leading to reports of the highest opening collection ever in Tamil cinema history! But with probably the most at stake, Rajnikanth's sigh of relief should be the biggest and the loudest since CM has apparently taken a clear lead at the box-office.

Based on what I've seen on the web, the film has received mostly above-average reviews. So such non-negative word-of-mouth(my wife gave it a "It's OK. Can see it once"), positive comments on the comedy, the different, non-masala storyline(which will bring womenfolk in) and the strong climax should keep the movie going strong past the initial full houses that Rajnikanth's fans ensure. Looks like the woman is going to win the box-office battle against the man and the train this time :)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Kon-nichiwa Chandramukhi

[Arunachalam hoarding, at the time of the movie's release, sharing space with other Hollywood biggies in Tokyo's equivalent of Times Square]

It looks like Japan's craze for Rajnikanth and his movies continues unabated. Five Japanese, one of whom is a monk, have travelled all the way to Chennai from Japan to catch his latest flick! Another news item about the five fans talks about an increase in the number of students enrolling in Tamil courses in Japanese universities as a result of Rajnikanth's popularity!

It was with Rajni's Muthu, dubbed Dancing Maharaja in Japan, that the Japanese were introduced to our own Superstar. If I remember correctly, the Muthu DVD was picked up by a Japanese critic who liked it so much that he wrote about it, leading to public awareness about the film. The Japanese found that they loved the feel-good entertainer with all of its comedy, sentiments, fights and colorful song sequences and naturally, became fans of its larger-than-life hero too. Soon, fan clubs and websites(here's one) for Rajnikanth popped up. All his subsequent movies were dubbed and released in Japan and fans started making their way to Chennai to meet him. Rajni even attempted to capitalize on his popularity in Japan by having a Japanese character in Baba but that, like the rest of the gimmicks in that movie, just seemed silly.

With not much talk about his Japanese fans recently and CM not being released in Japan, I thought that Rajni's popularity in the Land of the Rising Sun was on the decline. But with fans like these, I guess he is as popular as ever...


After months of waiting, yesterday was D-Day as I finally saw Chandramukhi at IMC6 in San Jose. A theater packed with Rajni fans, whistes, applause and hoots for the Superstar's appearance and a few showers of confetti all brought back memories of watching movies in Chennai, apart from reminding me how much I missed it all! The full-length review(with most of this post verbatim) will be online at bbreviews in a couple of days but here are a few thots on the film...

The most obvious aspect of CM is Rajnikanth's eagerness to deliver a hit that will erase all memories of the Baba debacle. The film's story cannot immediately be labelled as a trademark Rajni story(in other words, a story revolving around him!) and so has a wider appeal. He has taken extreme care about his appearance, looking both younger and brighter and is always seen in great outfits. There are also no dialogs with political overtones, he doesn't even smoke and there are very few self-hyping or philosophical lines. But this merging of a woman-centric story and the Rajni image is not always successful. Coming after Baba, CM is definitely a step in the right direction but not as big a step as hoped for.

CM is paced quite erratically. The first half is breezy enough with emphasis on comedy and just hints of something more serious and thrilling down the road. Vadivelu is the butt of jokes on two threads - he is scared of ghosts in the mansion and is eternally suspicious of his wife's attraction for Rajni. Though the latter is a bit crude, both threads are quite funny with Vadivelu's facial expressions and body language right on the mark.

But P.Vasu lets the movie flounder in the second half by not cranking up the pace. The comedy sequences here seem repetitive and unnecessary since they intrude into the main story. It becomes increasingly clear that several of the characters are unnecessary and so scenes with them make us fidget in our seats. Some editing in the hour after the intermission would have gone a long way in making the movie gripping. There is also a twist in the proceedings here but all the pre-release publicity about the movie and the information about the roles played by the stars make this grand revelation by Rajni rather anti-climactic.

I have always thought that climaxes can make or break a movie and CM ends with a bang because of a strong climax. The Ra Ra... song works very well on screen with the lakalaka... bit(uttered by two characters) adding quite an effect. The scenes from the past are captivating with Rajni obviously enjoying himself and the way the main issue is resolved is satisfying.

Rajni's aging is evident only in a few close-ups and a lot of credit for his young(er) look goes to his make-up man and costume designer. His trademark speed is definitely lost but the fact is masked by the simple, light steps(which still look good when coordinated with the group dancers) in the dance sequences and wire-fu techniques in the stunt sequences. Jyothika has worked hard and is good in the meaty role though she seems a little over the top occasionally. Prabhu stays in the sidelines but his emotional performance towards the end evokes guffaws. Nayantara looks homely but not exceptionally pretty. Vadivelu comes up with one of his best performances but Nasser overacts in playing for laughs.

Picturization of songs is average. Apart from the effective Ra Ra..., Annanoda Paattu... is energetically picturized though Vasu should have stuck to picturizing it in the engagement hall(with all men in the visually appealing white dhoti-shirt combination) rather than moving it to the cheesy club setting with all those women. Rajni looks his best in the pleasing Athinthom... though. Even for viewers used to seeing foreign locations in song sequences, the locations(in Turkey) for the Konja Neram... song are breathtaking.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Five People You Meet In Heaven

While not path-breaking or life-changing as the reviews proclaim, Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet In Heaven is definitely a feel-good read. It is frequently touching and occasionally surprising and derives its feel-good part from its core philosophy that every man, however insignificant he may think he is, has a part to play in the world.

The book is about Eddie, a maintenance man who has spent his entire life working at Ruby Pier, a seaside amusement park. The book opens surprisingly following Eddie around as he goes about his daily duties, unaware that he is living his last minutes on earth. He dies while performing a selfless act and once in heaven, meets five people who in one way or the other, have a link to him.

The five people for Eddie have been chosen well. It is never easy to guess who the next one is going to be and what the lesson that they have in store for Eddie is. The episodes with the first, second and last persons are the most interesting and educational while the remaining two help more in understanding Eddie's past. The book ends wonderfully and the scene where Eddie finally understands his purpose in life is truly exhilarating.

Mitch Albom has a simple style of writing, avoiding longwinded sentences and flowery prose. But the style serves the story well here. It is an emotional story designed to tug at our heartstrings and Albom's style makes the story seem intimate and personal. At the same time, the author keeps our interest in the story by avoiding a straightforward storytelling approach. From the main thread where Eddie meets the five people, there are frequent flashbacks to his past years. Apart from this, a third thread describes his birthdays as he moved on in years. The flashbacks serve as snapshots of his life at different points, helping us understand how his life has changed. The technique also helps avoid the feeling of lack of continuity as we jump to different points in Eddie's life.

With books by my favorite authors coming out in the next few months, my summer reads are going to be filled with serial killers, thrills and twists. But Five People was a nice change of pace and brought a smile to my face at the end. Can't ask for much more from a book!

A Man, a Woman and a Train

It looks like all 3 biggies have made it to the screens for Tamil New Years day. Reviews have already started showing up on the web and the good news is, none of them is carrying negative reports. While I am holding off on reading the reviews in detail until I see the movies, I couldn't resist peeking to get an idea of their opinion...

Chandramukhi - Rediff has a review here . Says that the story doesn't quite suit Rajni but guesses it will be a hit. Jyothika gets high marks for her performance.
Mumbai Express - Ram Murali, who is as big a Kamal fan as I am a Rajni fan, has his review here. Looks like he had fun but missed 'Crazy' Mohan.
Sachein - Rediff's review is here. Raves about Vijay and his characterization while categorizing the movie as a so-so romance.

Let the box-office battles begin!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

When 12 is less than 11...

[Pic Courtesy IMDb]

Like most sequels, Ocean's 12 is a big disappointment when compared to its predecessor. It boasts of more star power, more exotic locations and heists with bigger payoffs but is dull and predictable for the most part. The easy camarederie between the stars and the in-jokes make it clear that all involved had fun during the making of the movie but the film unfortunately was not as much fun for me.

The full gang of Ocean's 11 is forced to get back together when casino owner Terry(Andy Garcia) wants them to pay him back, with interest, the money they stole from him in the previous movie. They get their targets lined up but there is another thief, Night Fox, who wants to prove that he is better than Ocean(George Clooney) in the thieving business. Meanwhile Rusty's(Brad Pitt) ex-flame(Catherine Zeta-Jones) has the gang in sight too.

Ocean's 12 has 2 big heists. The first one is so complicated and work-intensive and requires so much preparation that it loses all semblance of reality. On the other hand, the second one is anti-climactic and disappointing. It has quite a buildup and since several key things go wrong, it keeps us guessing as to how it will eventually be executed. But the final developments turn out to be a case of deus ex machina and entirely predictable.

Eventually, the only enjoyable moments in the movie turn out to be non-heist-related. There is some funny banter when the gang gets together like the members' displeasure with being referred to as Ocean's 11. Matt Damon's earnest, straight-laced turn is also enjoyable in the scenes where takes part in a hilarious meeting with a middleman and their group meeting where he takes exception to referring to someone as a 'freak'. Pitt and Zeta-Jones also share good chemistry while Julia Roberts(alongwith Bruce Willis in a cameo) takes a few shots at her own image.

PS: Question for those who have seen the movie... Who is the actor playing the master thief, whose face we see only at the end?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Game Time

Here's a game you can play while you are waiting in line to see Chandramukhi! Below is a letter that might be written by a Rajni rasigan to his lover (no, I did not write this to my wife!) Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find all the Rajni movies that are hidden in the letter...

I guess readers who actually have the time and inclination to play this game can simply post how many Rajni movies they actually found. I will post the solution in a couple of days...

Priyamaana Kaadhali Chandramukhi,

First ennai pathi konjam solren. Naan nallavanukku nallavan. Johny Walker bottlum kaiyumaa alaiyura Maangudi minorum illa, Billa, Ranga maadhiri criminalum illa. Naattukkoru Nallavan thaannu sollamaaten but naan nallavan thaan. Naan padikkaadhavan illa. So officela nalla uzhaippaaliyaa irundhu seekiram panakkaaran aagiduven. Workla baashai theriyaadha oorukku anuppinaalum naan manage panniduven.Naan mahaan alla. Rajadhi rajavum alla. Saadharana manidhan thaan. But enkitta thillu mullu senjaa polladhavan aagiduven. Pokkiri rajavaa maariduven. But kidskitta indha kuppathu raja, chinna rojaava maariduven. Mr.Bharathla Rajni maadhiri naan potta saavalil eppovum jeippen. Enakku naane ejamaan. Enakku naane velaikkaaran. Naan armyla fight panra raanuva veeran illenaalum maaveeran thaan. Naan dharmathin thalaivannu solla maaten. But dharmathai madhikkira dharmadurai thaan. Naan Cheran, Chozhan, Paandiyan maadhiri oorkkaavalan illa.

Enakku neraiya friends undu. Naan thanikkaattu raja illa. En friends uruvangal maarinaalumenga natpu maaraadhu. Unakku Shankar, Salim, Simon theriume. Andha maadhiri enaku ellamadhathilayum friends undu. Moonu per kitta moondru mugam kaatta theriyaadhu enaku. Oremugam, ore pechu irukum adhisaya piravi naan.

Naan unnai romba naalaa love panren. Unnai ninaithaale inikkum. Un padhinaaru vayadhinile, thalaiyil aaru pushpangalodu first time unnai paarthen. Appove decide pannitten. Aayiram jenmangal eduthu, ovvoru jenmathilum aarilirundhu arubathu varai, unnodu irukkanumnu. Agni saatchiyaaga un kazhuthil moondru mudichu pottu un parentskku maappillai aaganumnu Sri Raghavendravidamum, Thiruvannamalai Sivanidanum, andha aarupadaiyappavidamum vendikkaren. Appuram unakku ennidamirindhu viduthalaiye irukkaadhu.

Kalyaanam aanaalum namakku adutha vaarisu ippo vendaam. Nammidam ippo ilamai oonjalaadugiradhu. So we should enjoy life. Daily aadu puli aattam, sathurangam maadhiri games play panlaam.Zoo poi garjanai seiyum singam, paayum puli, murattu kaalai, kazhugu ellaam paakkalam. Unaku vendiyathai nee pannalaam. Yaaraavathu kettaa, aval appadithaannu adichu solluven.

Enaku annai oru aalayam. En Thaayillaamal Naanillai. Avungalukkum naan thaan thangamagan. So en thaai veedula nee nalla marumagalaa irukkanum. En thambiyayum nee paasamaa paathukkanum. Ippo en thambikku endha ooru theriuma? Bangalore. But seekkiram vandhuduvaan. Avan naan solradhellam keppaan. So engala guru sishyan solluvaanga. Sila per avana en thalapathynu kooda solluvaanga.

Naama mullum malarum maadhiri illaama namma vaazhkai pudhukkavidhaiya irukkum. Adhil thapputhaalangal illaadha aboorva raagangal thaan irukkum. Muruganum valliyum maadhiri naam onnaa iruppom. Alaavudheenum Arputha Vilakkum kadhaiyila vara genie maadhiri nee kettadhellamnaan tharuven. Nammidaiye dharmayudhame varaama, naam orutharuku oruthar kai kodukkum kaiyaairuppom. Neee engeyo ketta kuralaa illaama enkitta vandhu, unaku pudicha Sivaranjaniraagathil paadanum. Un kannil neer vazhindhaal en kaiyil thee pattadhu pola enakku thudikkum karangal. Ellaam nallathe nadakkumnu nam manadhil urudhi vendum. Appadi nadakkurathu ellaam un kairaasi.

Anbulla Rajinikanth rasigan Balaji Balasubramaniam (BaBa)

First No More!

My hopes of seeing Chandramukhi first day, first show have been dashed since IMC6 now has scheduled 2 more shows prior to the Apr 14, 8pm show that I have tickets for! According to the website, 1146 tickets have already been sold and so more shows have been added to meet the demand. So there is now a preview show on April 13 @ 8pm and then another show on Apr 14 at 6.30pm. But on the positive side (there is always a silver lining!), with prints already dispatched worldwide and two preceding shows, the chance for the potti varalai scenario at my show are pretty slim!

But the San Jose vs Fremont battle is still on. As a commentor mentioned on the previous post, preview shows for Mumbai Express have also been scheduled. Locally, NAZ8 in Fremont now has shows on Wednesday and Thursday at 8pm. But lists preview shows today(that has got to be the earliest show anywhere in the world!) and tomorrow at NAZ8 cinemas in Lakewood, CA.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Trivia(l) Pursuit

Ramkumar talks about Chandramukhi being the first Rajni movie with a female name after he became a Superstar(I guess the last one was Bhairavi)! Which led me to wonder... What was the last Rajni movie that did not in some way or form, refer to him. i.e. which was the last Rajni movie title that was not the name of his character(Baasha, Muthu, etc.), a description of him(Raajaadhi Raja, Adhisaya Piravi, etc.) or referred to him in some way(Naan Mahaan Alla, Anbukku Naan Adimai, etc.)? Do we have to go as far back as Avargal or Moondru Mudichu?

Hunt and Play!

With Mumbai Express all set to roll out of the station in a few days, Kamal has gone ahead and officially announced his next movie with Kaakka Kaakka director Gautham. Titled Vettayaadu Vilayaadu, it has him playing a cop and features Jo as the heroine. So my hopes came true after all! Throw in Harris Jayaraj and you have a very explosive combination which ensures that the movie will be saddled with very high expectations when it comes. If this is going to be a Diwali release(which is a strong possibility considering the timing), we already have the battlelines drawn for one contest with Vijay's Sivakasi also pencilled in for the big day. Watch this space for more news...

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Taste of Heist

The most popular post so far on this relatively new blog has been Of Sunsets and Diamonds.... While the post was primarily about the Pierce Brosnan-Salma Hayek heist movie After the Sunset, it grew into an enlightening discussion of heist movies in general, with both known and unknown(for me) movies being talked about.

The heist movie genre is definitely one of my favorites. The good ones boast of elaborate, complicated plots that require serious viewing, several plot twists, atleast a few memorable lines of dialog and ofcourse, one(or more) well-planned, tension-filled heists. Like any other genre, this one too has had its share of masterpieces and not-so-memorable flicks. For readers who share my liking of this genre, here is a consolidated list of movies from the previous post (like all interesting discussions, the post then veered off into Hitchcock movies but those movies, barring the one which falls into this genre, have been left out)

Films I have seen (ofcourse, with my personal ratings:-)
The Usual Suspects - ****
Reservoir Dogs - ****
Heist - *** 1/2
The Spanish Prisoner - *** 1/2
Ocean's Eleven - ***
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - ***
To Catch a Thief - ***
The Thomas Crowne Affair - ***
Snatch - ** 1/2
The Italian Job - ** 1/2
Guru - ** 1/2
After the Sunset - **
The Score - * 1/2

Films I have not seen (in the order I plan to see them)
The Killing
House of Games
The Sting
Asphalt Jungle
Dog Day Afternoon
Out of Sight (last mainly because I don't like either of the leads in this one!)

PS: Since Mamet is so closely associated with this genre, this question is not out of place here. Has anyone seen his Spartan with Val Kilmer? Any comments?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Mumbai Express Audio

After a few listens, the Mumbai Express soundtrack sounds like what I like to call a 'situational' album i.e an album that doesn't stand too well on its own but starts sounding better after seeing the way the songs have been picturized in the movie. Kamal has had situational albums in the past too but they have usually been for his 'serious' movies like Aalavandhaan and Hey Ram. Soundtracks for his lighter ventures have usually stood on their own, even if they haven't exactly delivered any real chartbusters recently. Mumbai Express seems to be an exception to this. Here are the songs in this album...

Kurangu Kaiyil - There are two versions of this song though both carry the same lyrics and tune. Only the music differs between the two. The lyrics are fun but the tune is rather pedestrian. One of the versions has a jazzy feel but both feature some nice music.

Poo Poothadhu - A very melodious duet that is currently my favorite song on the album. The two paragraphs are a bit too slow but overall a very nice number.

Vandhe Maadharam - A deliberately off-key and badly-coordinated version of the famous National song that sounds like it is sung by a group of kids. Quite possible that the picturization of this song was the one objected to by the censors for being deragatory to our National Flag.

Yele Nee Othi Po - Another group song and quite a long one too. This one has a catchy tune and contains a small speech in the middle with some funny observations about life in Mumbai and a few other things.

Theme Music - Nice orchestration but without any recurring bits, it hasn't gotten me humming it yet.

Final verdict? I'm already skipping over a couple of the songs to get to the Chandramukhi songs :)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Chandramukhi Trailer

Search and ye shall find! For those whose appetite was simply whetted by Chandramukhi's teaser trailer on the film's official website, here's a longer trailer (Real Player required). Its just 30 seconds long, seems incomplete at the end and is for the Telugu version, but who cares?! You get to see thalaivar smiling, striding, swirling his glasses in his inimitable style and fighting. And me thinks the trailer has been put together nicely with the images nicely in sync with the Devuda Devuda... starting music (especially the start of the fight when SPB starts singing Are Are Are...)

Less than a week to go...

Find Your Way... The Google Way!

"There's my house!"

I found myself at Google Maps today after a friend at work mentioned it (since I'm not sure how long its been in beta, this might be old news to many readers).

Google has always been known to take something already in use and put a cool, new spin on it (cool being the operative word there). The same mentality is evident on their maps site too. The directions part of it is pretty standard compared to what you get on Yahoo! Maps or Mapquest(ofcourse there's the trademark Google simplicity in the way you get a single text box to type in your addresses). But the site definitely gains a few notches on the 'cool' scale by virtue of its maps. The dragging capability is fun and combined with the zoom-in feature, you can get to the place you want and at any granularity, pretty fast. Raising the 'cool' bar further is the Satellite image feature with which you now get your directions on a Satellite image rather than the plain ol' two-dimensional map. Never mind that it doesn't add even an iota of value. But it does make us go "Whoa! Way cool!" when we first see it!

Maps have always been indispensable but now Google has managed to make them fun too!

San Jose vs Fremont!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have already bought my tickets for the April 14, 8pm show of Chandramukhi at IMC 6 in San Jose. There was so far no news about Mumbai Express but according to Mr. Chuck Chockalingam, who is distributing ME in the US, the film will have a simultaneous release at Naz 8 in Fremont. Naz 8's website's Coming Soon section lists both Hindi and Tamil versions of Kamal's movie and though it doesn't have any dates listed, its probably safe to assume that it will open on Friday, April 15th.

Naz is definitely the better theater of the two and Chuck says that Kamal's comedy films have an edge when it comes to US collections. At the same time, IMC 6 has already increased the number of shows they had scheduled(which usually points to strong advance bookings) and the Friday, 8pm show looks like it is sold out already. Lets wait and see who wins this tale of two cities!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Of Sunsets and Diamonds...

[Pic Courtesy IMDB]

Its been awhile since my wife and I liked an English movie equally well. While I go for the mindless, special-effects-laden actioners, she likes the cute, sweet romances. After the Sunset turned out to be a movie both of us liked but for very different reasons. While she went ga-ga over Pierce Brosnan, I drooled over Salma Hayek in peace! The two here play master thiefs who are retired on a Caribbean island until the presence of the famed Napoleon diamond on a cruise ship thats docked nearby tempts Brosnan. Woody Harrelson is the FBI agent who has a score to settle with Brosnan.

The movie offers little apart from the good-looking leads and gorgeous scenery though. It is bookended by two heists that are in turns both preposterous and simplistic. The movie is not as complicated as heist movies typically are and the relatively few twists can be seen a mile away. There are a few cheap laughs to be had in the scenes with Brosnan and Harrelson. But it is a pretty short movie and time passes easily enough.

PS: If heist movies interest you, check out Heist and The Spanish Prisoner.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Next Read

[Pic Courtesy Mitch Albom's Site]

Just started reading The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. This is not the kind of book I usually read but an intriguing premise, the author's track record(his previous novel Tuesdays with Morrie was a huge seller too) and the promise of a quick read due to the lesser number of pages made me pick this one up. The book is about Eddie, a ride operator at an amusement park, who dies and goes to heaven, and the five people he meets there. These are people he may or may not know but all five of them have affected his life in one way or another. The book has got great reviews and is supposed to be a "heartwearming, life-affirming book that makes you see the world anew!"

All set for Chandramukhi!

Chandramukhi has been censored and given a clean 'U' certificate. And on a personal note, I have purchased tickets for the 8pm show on Thursday, April 14. So barring any unforeseen, last-minute hassles (the most feared being "We haven't gotten the print!"), I am all set to cheer thalaivar on!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Sound of Music

Anticipation about upcoming soundtracks like Mumbai Express and Anniyan and the discussion on Chandramukhi songs led me to think about song sequences in Tamil cinema in general.

There are so many elements that go into making a single song sequence. The most important among these elements are ofcourse the song itself (i.e its tune), its lyrics, the singers, the way the song has been picturized(in other words, the combination of cinematography, art direction and set design), the choreography and the performance of the participants(which could be either dancing or just 'simple' acting). Ofcourse, some of these are more important than the others and excellence in some of the aspects can overcome deficiencies in others. There have probably been as many good songs let down by poor picturization(Senorita... from Poovellaam Kaettuppaar) as there have been average songs made better by good picturization(Annamalai Annamalai... from Annamalai). But IMO, only when all the elements come together does a song sequence become truly timeless and and a delight that can be seen and savored over and over again.

Selecting a single favorite from the 1000s of Tamil cinema song sequences over the years is definitely a daunting task. But keeping in mind the aforementioned components of a song sequence, I think I have my favorite. And the winner is... (drumroll please!)

Andhi Mazhai Pozhigiradhu... from Raajapaarvai

This one of those magical song sequences that has it all - a melodious and instantly hummable tune,wonderfully meaningful and clever lyrics(like the play on the word/phrase Ilamaiyile and Ila Mayile),involved singing by SPB, natural picturization with bright cinematography and interesting pieces(like the transparent umbrella) and great acting(just see the way Kamal looks for Madhavi when she plays behind him and his completely blank stare when he catches her). This is a song sequence that always mesmerizes me each time I see it.

But its never fun having just one favorite and Top 5 just sounds better than Top 1. So here are 4 other song sequences that have managed to bring together all the elements successfully. These are in no particular order and without thinking a lot more, I couldn't even claim that these are my top 4 favorites after Andhi Mazhai.... But if I ever burn a DVD of my favorite song sequences to watch over and over, these 4 would definitely find a place on it.

- Chinna Chinna Vanna Kuyil... (Mouna Raagam) - The immensely catchy tune here is supported by wonderful picturization. A very pretty Revathi gracefully makes the steps look easy and the group of women dancing the steps in unison is a delight to watch. The Rajasthani dresses have been selected with an eye on brigh colors and many of the shots(like shooting Revathi through a caravan moving sideways) are testimony to the cinematographer's innovative ideas. Even split-second shots(like Revathi letting go of her veil which she had caught in her mouth) are perfectly in sync with the tune.

- Pachai Nirame... (Alaipaayudhe) - Color has always been an important part of Manirathnam's films and this song is all about color. In both lyrics and on screen, one color is predominant during each segment of the song. What makes it great is that the color is not overdone as to be gaudy but simply stands out. The lyrics that find color in the not always obvious places(red of a child's hand, for instance) reveal Vairamuthu's wonderful imagination and the casual but uninhibited dancing and gorgeous cinematography are simply classy.

- Valaiyosai... (Satya) - Choreography is usually considered only for dancing but this song proves that it is just as important when there is absolutely no dancing too. Starting off rather passionately with Kamal's impulsive kiss on Amala's saree-covered lips, the song manages to be both fast and melodious with SPB and Lata Mangeshkar in their elements with their soothing voices. The entire song is picturized in a youthful and playful manner with Kamal and Amala perfectly playing two young people in love. The ends of both paragraphs(Amala's 'shaky' reaction to Kamal's tickling and their united swaying as their bus comes to a stop) are my favorite parts and are choreographed such that they match with the tune perfectly.

- Satham Illaadha... (Amarkkalam) - This is one of the few song sequences that blends seamlessly with the film. In fact, one could say the song is indispensable since Ajith's feelings could not have been expressed so passionately and clearly with any amount of dialog. The barren location fits the mood of the song very well and Vairamuthu's lyrics bring out Ajith's yearnings wonderfully through simple things that we've all yearned for at one time or the other. Ofcourse, SPB's breathless singing, ending in a very high pitch, always raises goosebumps even after knowing that its the result of some musical manipulation.

Kamal Films Retrospective

Looks like the Indian Film Festival(IFF) in Malaysia, that happened over the weekend, had a retrospective of Kamal films. This short writeup on the actor in interesting even if it does not provide anything new. I liked the fact that unlike many articles written by non-Tamils, this one has gotten the facts right about his movies, their themes, etc. As always, Kamal's response to 'copying' Hollywood films is interesting. Looks like he's shifted away from the "My movies are original. I have not seen the movie(s) they are supposed to be copied from" response to a "The originals themselves are copies. So whats wrong if my movies have shades of them?" stand! The committee has also done a great of selecting 6 of his movies - Devar Magan, Virumaandi, Anbe Sivam, Mahanadhi, Aboorva Sagodharargal and Indian. They all showcase his incredible talent and versatility by encompassing a wide range of genres.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Lost Lake

Lost Lake is a good if somewhat straightforward read by Phillip Margolin. Its protagonist, leading a peaceful life in Portland, Oregon is suddenly revealed to be a man on the run from the police for killing a Congressman. But he maintains that he was the member of a secret unit that carried out illegal missions and that the unit was led by a general who is now a presidential candidate. The general's own daughter, the hero's high school sweetheart, supports his story. But their pasts leads the police to attach little credence to their story and the only person on their side is a small-time lawyer, who was the hero's landlord.

The previous book by Margolin was a serial killer thriller. But the author holds his own here inspite of the large canvas that includes a popular presidential candidate, the Vietnam war and a secret unit carrying out covert missions. The novel maintains its pace successfully from start to finish and keeps us hooked by using flashbacks to reveal its story a little at a time. Characters, like the charismatic general, are developed well and are convincing. At the same time, the novel is quite straightforward with few surprising twists. Some of the sequences are quite unbelievable and the climax is quite weak.

This is only the second book by Margolin that I have read and though it doesn't move him to the top of my list of favorite authors or anything, it makes sure that I will be on the lookout for his next one.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Best Photoblog

India, with its abundant scenery, inherent exoticism, colorful people and myriad customs and traditions, has always been considered a photographer's delight. More proof, if it was needed, is that an Indian photoblog has won the award for the best South East Asian/Indian photoblog presented annually by The winning photoblog, Shutterbug, maintained by Nilesh, highlights one new photo a day. A little background on the photo iself is presented and ofcourse, technical details on the equipment, settings, etc. are provided sometimes. Congratulations Nilesh...

Friday, April 01, 2005

A Disastrous Quarter!

If Tamil cinema was a publicly traded company and today was the day it reported results for the first quarter of 2005, its stock would have tanked! It has been a poor year for the cinemagoer so far with no single release truly standing out. Going purely by my reviews, I think this is the first year, in the 6 years I have been reviewing movies, that only two movies released in the first three months have earned 2 1/2 stars or more (and one of the two, Kaadhal, was technically released in 2004!). So far, Raam has been the only movie to even attempt to offer something different. All other movies have either been unoriginal, violent masala films, lacklustre romances or failed comedies.

Among the stars, only Vijay has something to be happy about with his Thiruppaachi making money at the box-office (though this is probably reflective of the lack of competition and his star power rather than the quality of the movie itself). All other actors, whether they are longstanding (Sarathkumar, Arjun), established (Ajith, Prashanth), up-and-coming (Dhanush) or over-the-hill (Satyaraj), have seen their films bite the dust.

Tamil cinema atleast can look forward to a better 2nd quarter. Films like Rajnikanth's Chandramukhi, Kamalhassan's Mumbai Express and Vijay's Sachin are slated to arrive early in the quarter while Anniyan, a combined offering from Vikram and Shankar, is not too far behind. Even Godfather, from the trio of Ajith-K.S.Ravikumar-A.R.Rehman, may make it to screens in this quarter if it resolves its issues. All these films, whatever their eventual fate at the box office, are sure to shake up things atleast for a little while. So, carrying the company metaphor a little further, this is probably the best time to buy Tamil cinema stock!

No new reviews today

Since I've been in Texas on a business trip for most of this week, I haven't had the chance to watch any new Tamil movies. In fact, I haven't even completed the review for the 1 movie I did watch, Maayaavi. So bbreviews will not be updated today. Watch out for a big update next week with reviews of Maayaavi, Kannaadi Pookkal and London.