Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Short Story

Its been awhile and so I thot I'd take a shot at writing one. I am definitely a li'l bit rusty and always looking to improve... So any feedback will be greatly appreciated.


I have known her for a few days now. I know she came to this profession only out of financial necessity. I still remember the first day I saw her. Timid, scared and not really sure what she was supposed to do as the stern-faced madam brought her to my room. But she had a natural talent and was a fast learner. There were a lot of other women doing what she did in this same building. But she’s said to be the best of them all now.

Every day with her felt like a brand new day and today was no different. Her hands were all over me as soon as she walked in. Her soft fingertips worked their magic over different parts of me and her long hair was smooth as silk as it brushed against my body. She was really skilled and knew exactly which of my buttons to press. I just lay quietly as she did what she was best at.

She spent the entire day, which passed by too quickly, with me. After she was done, the programmer pressed 4 more of my buttons – CTRL, ALT, DEL and K - to lock the computer, picked up her bag and left for the day.

No Kids Please - Update

I recently posted a rant on Tamil parents taking their kids to movies(in this particular case, Kanaa Kanden) that were in no way suitable for viewing by kids. The Hindu's MetroPlus today has people from several walks of life voice their views on violence and sex in movies and their effect on children. According to Parvathy Viswanath, a psychologist, "Two major effects of reel violence are: children become less sensitive to pain and sufferings of others and they also behave in an aggressive manner. Children who watch the violent shows, even cartoons, are more likely to hit out at friends, argue, disobey class rules, leave tasks unfinished, and are less willing to wait for things". I rest my case!

Great Lyrics, Bad Grammar?

Nithya's latest post got me thinking back to similar situations I've been in when it's raining. But the fodder for this particular post comes from the couple of lines in the post from the classic Ilaya Nilaa... number from Payanangal Mudivathillai. The lines go

Mugilinangal Alaigirathey Mugavarigal Tholainthanavo
Mugavarigal Thavariyathaal Azhuthidumo Athu Mazhaiyo

The lines are trademark Vairamuthu as he talks about clouds searching for addresses and then crying because they have lost them, leading to rain! Brilliant imagination and wonderfully put into words.

I'm no Tamil scholar but the first line here has irked me for a long time. Since Mugilinangal is plural, shouldn't it be Alaiginrana and not Alaigirathu? It doesn't appear to be a choice based on convenience either since Alaiginrana seems to fit just as well into the tune of the line. So is it bad grammar or am I missing something? Anyone who can provide the answer will have answered a persistent question that has been lodged in a tiny corner of my brain for a couple of decades now!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Kutti Anniyan


[Pic Courtesy Indiaglitz]

and Kutti Anniyan :-)

A Walk Down Embarcadero

Yesterday my daughter and I went to Angel Island again, this time as part of a picnic with some of the kids from her class in school. Since I'd seen all the sights the island has to offer during my trip earlier this month, this one was more about my daughter having fun with her friends outside of school and the delicious lunch the parents had brought.

After the ferry ride back to Pier 41, one of the parents suggested we have a bite to eat at one of the restaurants in downtown San Francisco. I was game and we started walking down Embarcadero, the long street that goes parallel to the bay. With it being Sunday, and a long weekend to boot, the street had literally come alive. It was filled with cars and the sidewalks were simply a sea of people.

Following are some of the more interesting sights I caught during the walk. I really wish I could've snapped some pictures but between carrying my daughter(who was really tired after a long day and refused to walk) and my backpack(which was still heavy with some picnic leftovers) I simply could'nt juggle a camera too in my hand. So you'll just have to use your imagination...

- A line of cars that had apparently refitted their wheels so they could adjust the height of each wheel independently. So the cars were moving at some precarious angles and frequently bobbing up and down at each stop!

- a couple of guys painted in gold & silver colors performing some nifty moves to music while standing on a box

- a guy hiding holding a couple of bushes in his hands and sitting behind them, and thrusting them in front of unsuspecting passers-by, startling them

- a homeless man holding a board that said "Need money for alcohol research"!!

- wax statues of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at the entrance to the wax museum

- an animatronic crook climbing up and down a rope tempting people to enter Ripley's Believe It or Not museum

- sidewalk stores selling everything from whistles that help u make animal sounds(very realistic by the way!) to $2 t-shirts!

We abandoned the search for the restaurant midway since we were all too tired. But we then stopped at this really cute area with restaurants surrounding a makeshift open-air auditorium. We ordered some crepes from a little crepe stand. I got the veggie one which was filled with avocado, tomatoes, cheese and onions and was just really yummy(my daughter, a picky eater, loved it too). So we dug into our crepes while a high-school orchestra from Oregon played some classical tunes in the auditorium. It was what you could call a uniquely San Franciscoan experience!

Friday, May 27, 2005


[Pic Courtesy TamilCinema]

This very obvious take on Jothika's climactic dance in Chandramukhi occurs in Englishkaran, Satyaraj's next collaboration with Shakti Chidambaram, the director of his Mahanadigan. Tamilcinema talks about Jo calling up Satyaraj and laughing about the stills, which have appeared in many magazines. Looks like the lady has a good sense of humor too! Opportunities for a very funny spoof on the dance are obviously enormous. Hope Shakti Chidambaram and Satyaraj don't overdo it.

The article also mentions[tamil font required] another hitherto unheard tidbit about CM. The origins of the Lakalakalaka... bit were apparently in Nepal, where the phrase is uttered to drive away ghosts that have possessed people. Uttering Lakalakalaka... is supposed to invoke 'bigger' ghosts that will drive away the 'smaller' ghosts that have possessed those people. Rajni came across a group uttering that when he was in Nepal and after learning the meaning behind the tradition, decided to incorporate it into CM.

500 Not Out!

3 new reviews(Kanaa Kanden, Jithan and Sevvel) are online at bbreviews. That takes the total number of reviews on the site to 500. Kinda glad that the 500th review is Kanaa Kanden. Just seems like a significant milestone and would've hated it to be a review of a movie like Meesai Madhavan!

Have a memorable memorial weekend people!

And Now, Rahman's Time

[Pic Courtesy Dhwanii]

A few days after Naayagan found a place on Time magazine's 100 best movies of all time, another Indian makes it to an even shorter list by the same magazine. This time its A.R.Rahman, whose soundtrack for Roja(the Hindi version), has been selected as one of the all-time best soundtracks by the magazine's critic. According to Richard Corliss, the same critic who chose Naayagan, "This astonishing debut work parades Rahman's gift for alchemizing outside influences until they are totally Tamil, totally Rahman. He plays with reggae and jungle rhythms, fiddles with Broadway-style orchestrations, runs cool variations on Morricone's scores for Italian westerns".

The songs in Roja are definitely classics. The simple but catchy Chinna Chinna Aasai...; the melodious and soothing Kaadhal Rojaave...; the raucous Rukkumani...; the romantic Pudhu Vellai Mazhai....; and the patriotic and uplifting Thamizhaa Thamizhaa... - all songs that had me hooked on the first listen and have stood the test of time. A devoted Ilaiyaraja fan, I still remember being pissed off at Manirathnam for 'abandoning' Ilaiyaraja, who had given him some classic and memorable numbers, and hoping that the songs in Roja would suck! But ARR did win me over the very first time I heard Chinna Chinna Aasai... and Pudhu Vellai Mazhai... And with the gorgeous visuals accompanying them on the big screen, I was a Rahman fan :-)

My favorite Rahman moment in Roja though, does not occur in any of the song sequences.It's the scene where Arvind Swamy douses the fire on the burning Indian flag with his body, even as he is tied up. The music in the scene, starting off slowly before building to a mindblowing crescendo, would ignite a patriotic spark even in the most cynical of minds. Hats off to Rahman(ofcourse, equal credit is due to Manirathnam for the picturization, but we are just talking about the music here...)

Way to go ARR...

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Shyamalan and K.S.Ravikumar

Inspite of some underlying similarities, Wide Awake was a very different kind of movie compared to Shyamalan's later movies(i.e. beginning with and after Sixth Sense). While Wide Awake was more heartfelt, emotional and overall, a feel-good movie, Shyamalan's later movies have been dark, atmospheric and sprinkled with Boo! moments. This shift in moviemaking style may hint at Shyamalan confining himself to the kind of movies he thinks the public expects from him. If he is putting a lid on his creativity and filtering the ideas that don't seem to fit in with the expectations from his movies, that would eventually be a loss to us viewers. It is in this aspect that I see something similar between Shyamalam and our own master of masala, K.S.Ravikumar.

It is hard to believe now but KSR's first film was the superlative thriller Puriyaadha Pudhir. That film still stands up to the best in the genre. It is a whodunnit where it is really difficult to guess whodunnit? and the suspense and twists are of such a high order that even the unmasking of a secondary player three quarters of the way into the movie comes as a complete surprise. It is fast-paced, with only a single, unnecessary scene of comedy and boasts of many twists and turns. KSR holds a tight rein on the screenplay and moves it along with a confidence that belies his inexperience(both behind the camera itself and in this difficult genre). He has even tried a couple of fancy techniques with the camera.

But KSR then shifted to the village milieu and tasted success with Cheran Pandiyan and since then, those kind of movies have become his trademark. He has never revisited the thriller genre and instead confined himself to lightweight comedies(Minsaara Kannaa) or sentimental movies revolving around some kind of familial relations(Naattaamai). Ofcourse these films have served him well. Apart from earning him the tag of a successful director, they have paved the way for him to work multiple times with top actors like Rajnikanth(Muthu, Padaiyappa) and Kamalhassan(Avvai Shanmughi, Tenali).

But looking back at Puriyaadha Pudhir and KSR's recent movies, its hard not to feel a twinge of regret at the thought that we might have lost a talented director at the altar of commercialism.

No Kids Please!

This is just a rant on parents bringing their children to theaters, something I've seen in theaters screening Tamil movies here in the US. Though this is a common occurrence in almost all Tamil movies, the timing of this rant was prompted by the screening of Kanaa Kanden last weekend. Kids crying, running in the aisles and parents trying to console/control them spoils the moviegoing atmosphere for other viewers in the theater but I'm not going to go there in this post. This one's more on behalf of the kids.

There were three families with kids in tow for Kanaa Kanden, the kids ranging in age from probably 4-5 yrs to 9-10 yrs (older kids probably won't accompany their parents to any movie, let alone a Tamil movie!). And from the parents' conversations, it was obvious that they were film buffs, well aware of the kind of film Kanaa Kanden was going to be. There was no part of the movie that offered what could be construed as wholesome entertainment for kids that age. I mean, do the kids at this age really need to see a husband and wife talking about rape, skimpily clad women dancing suggestively and people being killed rather violently? I'm no psychiatrist but I can't think of anything constructive arising out of these kids watching the film.

And I have seen worse. I have seen kids at movies like Hey Ram and Kaakka Kaakka (I have personally heard a kid asking his father "Daddy, what is that uncle doing?" during a particularly unsavory scene in Hey Ram). I have seen sleepy babies being carried to night shows(this usually happens during popular movies), fed during the intermission and then carried back to the car in the cold night.

Indian(particularly Tamil) obsession for movies is well-known(I contribute to that obsession too :-) but isn't this carrying things a little too far? Why is it that the same Indian parents, who go to great lengths to make sure their children have the best life possible, do not realise the trouble they are putting the same children to, for their personal two and a half hours of entertainment? Is it that difficult for the parents to 1) find a babysitter among their friends 2) leave the children at a friend's place or 3) find some friends in the same situation so that dads and moms can see the movie at different shows? Worst case, they can just wait for the tape/VCD/dvd!

Btw, the last mentioned suggestion above is what my wife and I do. In fact, I usually end up going alone since none of my friends here share my enthusiasm for Tamil movies and my wife goes with her cousin, though there have been a couple of movies she had to see on her own too. The only 2 movies we have taken our daughter to have been The Incredibles(which we had to walk out of in 10 minutes anyway since she was scared) and Pooh's Heffalump Movie. I can't think of greater movie buffs than me and my wife and if we can find a way to watch movies without troubling our daughter, I'm sure other parents can too.

So parents... have fun at the movies. Just leave your kids out of it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Wide Awake

[Pic Courtesy IMDb]

Its always interesting to go back and watch the initial movies made by a director who later became famous for a particular genre. Wide Awake was the second movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who then went on to direct Sixth Sense, the blockbuster that catapulted him to worldwide fame. It is a more intimate, personal film without the creepy atmosphere and Boo! moments that Shyamalan's films have since become known for. But it does contain his other trademarks like insights into everyday human behavior, ability to lighten a heavy theme with subtle humor and inclination towards the surprise ending.

The film stars Joseph Cross as Joshua Beal, a fifth grade student in a Catholic school. The recent loss of his grandfather has hit Joshua hard and his family is trying hard to help him deal with it. Unable to understand how bad things can happen to good people, Joshua embarks on a mission to find God.

Wide Awake's most affecting moments come from the flashback scenes depicting the relationship between Joseph and his grandfather. The moment where Joseph understands that his grandpa is sick and their subsequent conversations on the topic are very touching. There are some very human moments between Joseph and the rest of his family too(like their moral support of his quest and the scene that reveals his dad's discomfort in talking to him). But its the sequences between grandson and grandfather that are more emotional and this is important in understanding how much the loss means to Joseph.

Joseph seems to be too mature for his age. Apart from his rather high-concept mission, many of the things he says and the way he says them don't ring true when we consider they are coming from a fifth-grader. I guess thats better than him saying dumb things and acting all cute and irritating but it still felt scripted instead of feeling like its from the heart.

Like Signs, Wide Awake has its heart in the right place as long as you share Shyamalan's beliefs about religion and the supernatural. If you do so, the film has a feel-good ending that leaves you with a warm feeling in your heart. But for the viewer with a more cynical bent of mind, the ending could very well seem corny. I belong to the former category and so finished the movie with a smile on my lips and a good feeling in my heart.

The film is held up by some good performances. Rosie O' Donnell gets top billing and is enthusiasm personified as the baseball-loving nun. Joseph Cross seems stiff in a few scenes but is good overall. Robert Loggia brings depth to his role as the grandfather in the few scenes he is on screen. Dennis Leary and Julia Stiles, performers who have since become more familiar, have small roles as Joseph's dad and his sister.

Shyamalan, since Sixth Sense, has become one of my favorite directors. I like his grim, broody but never overtly violent style of filmmaking and am eagerly looking forward to his next film. So it was nice to go back and see one of the films where he sharpened his skills, so to speak. The fact that it was a nice, feel-good film was an added bonus.

Anniyan On The Way

It looks like producer 'Oscar' Ravichandran's claim on Anniyan's release date may be more credible this time around. He had earlier 'confirmed' the eagerly anticipated film's worldwide release on May 20 only to have Vikram state later that the movie will release on May 27 and if not, definitely by June 4! According to Ravichandran, the confirmed release date is now June 10. IMC6 too has listed the show timings starting June 10(with the possibility of earlier preview shows) in its Coming Soon section and says that online bookings will start "any moment".

The trailer has whetter my appetite for the film and I am definitely one of those eagerly awaiting Anniyan's arrival. Lets see if atleast this release date stays the same. If not, I guess we could call Ravichandran the producer who cried "Anniyan"!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Kanaa Kanden

The last film that K.V.Anand served as cinematographer for was 2004's Chellame, a critical and commercial hit. Understandably, Anand has adopted a similar formula for Kanaa Kanden, his debut as director. So we geta story about a young couple whose happiness is threatened by a bad guy, packaged with good cinematography, nice music and comedy. Fortunately, Anand has learnt his lesson well and the result is an entertaining romantic thriller. I do have a few complaints but it is definitely a good first effort from Anand.

Bhaskar(Srikanth) and Archana(Gopika), who have been best friends since childhood, finally manage to reveal their feelings for each other after 10 long years. Bhaskar is a post-graduate whose projecton the inexpensive desalination of seawater has been approved by the college. His dream is to hand over his project to the government so that it reaches the people but the government demands a working model, for which he is unable to find funding. Archana runs into Madan(Prithviraj), a senior during her college years and he agrees to fund Bhaskar's model. Bhaskar and Archana are initially elated but slowly discover Madan's true nature - he is a vicious loan shark who will go to any lengths to get his money

First things first. Kanaa Kanden works because of its villain. On the outside he is handsome, refined, well-dressed and overall, a good friend. But hidden inside the cultured exterior is a cruel, heartless man who has no qualms about squashing lives under his feet in his quest for money. We usually hear of blessings in disguise. Here's a curse in disguise!. He drives Srikanth and Gopika to the depths of misery but does so calmly and quietly with a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eyes. Among villains who roll their eyes, rant and rave in an effort to convey their villainous intentions, the villain here is a class apart. Full marks to Anand for the characterization of a villain we really hate passionately.

But Kanaa Kanden also has a hero and heroine who make it easy for us to root for them against the bad guy. Its always nice to see an idealistic hero and the fact that Srikanth here is idealistic about resolving a current, burning issue makes us warm up to him almost immediately. The technical mumbo-jumbo he throws out passes muster and doesn't sound too silly or ridiculous(though a scientist may be able to poke holes in his explanations). Gopika too comes across as smart and capable(like the way she scribbles in the blank portions of a contract, having been burnt earlier) though she does jump to a rather big decision a bit too quickly. The two make a cute couple and both the banter and the fights between them bring a newly-married couple before our eyes.

Kanaa Kanden can be split into three acts - the setup(i.e. the romance and the meeting withPrithviraj), Prithviraj harassing the couple and Srikanth striking back. Anand doesn't balance the second and third acts well enough. The second act ends up being too long while the third act, which is the crowd-pleasing one, is over too soon. We realise Prithviraj's character right before the intermission. So lingering for so long on his harassment of Srikanth and Gopika seems like overkill. On the other hand, Srikanth's revenge on Prithviraj is exciting since we were waiting for so long for Prithviraj to get his comeuppance(the sequence is also thrillingly picturized with Srikanth actually making use of his education and generates 2 genuinely suspenseful moments). Anand stretches it way too long and so the joy when it does happen is shortlived. But the climax is clever and quite short.

The film is classy fare for the most part but Anand inexplicably shows an inclination for the crude at many places. And it takes several forms. There's Vivek's inappropriate and completely tasteless comment on tsunami-hit Chennai. There's the dance by the skimpily-clad female at the bar at a completely wrong moment. There's the antics of the lead policewoman in the Chinna Chinna Sigarangal... song. The act by Prithviraj's henchman to draw out a hiding debtor in his house is disgusting but understandable and maybe even necessary, to highlight Prithviraj's ruthlessness. But then, was the lingering shot and the still really necessary, especially when intermission is usually snack time?!

Directors have for long used a technique where they show something shocking only to reveal later that it was a dream, product of imagination, etc. Unless used at the right place, it can end up irritating the viewer by being anticlimactic. Anand at one point does something similar but uses a fresh technique to surprise us momentarily before revealing what actually happened. It was just a couple of seconds but pointed to some nice ideas residing within this new director.

Srikanth fits the role of the young man with a lofty goal. Gopika looks homely and has acted quite intimately with Srikanth. She gains our sympathy in the second half. Prithviraj shares equal credit for the success of the villain's role here. His casual performance is sure to earn him laurels. Vivek is a pale shadow of his earlier self in a role that reminds one of his turn in Run. His one-liners, Rather than his 'interviews' with Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi, worked for me. He also attempts to make a few social observations in the interview with the politician. Chinna Chinna Sigarangal... and Kaalai Arumbi... have some nice locations and good cinematography but the picturization itself is rather pedestrian. Thaai Sollum... plays well in the background.

A Word Game

My love of the English language has naturally extended into a love of word games. Recently I came across another blog whose author, apart from sharing my name, shares my love of word games. He is part of a small group of enthusiasts who share a love for The Hindu's crossword and have even started a Yahoo! group for it. They also conduct small word games via their blogs, calling them CWCs(Clue Writing Contests).

I found the latest CWC to be quite interesting. Its aim was to provide a clue to the name of a Hollywood movie through a line using wordplays(anagrams, double definitions, etc.) i.e. in the form of a typical clue in the Hindu crossword.

As an example, the author's entry was

Fugitive takes a second class ride when she needs to forsake her fiance (7, 5)

which refers to Runaway Bride in the following way:

fugitive - runaway
takes - wordplay indicator
second class - B
ride - ride
forsake her fiance - what Julia Roberts does in the film

The game involves two of my loves - word games and movies - and naturally, I couldn't resist taking a shot. My entry for the game was too late to be an official entry on the CWC itself but I thot I'd throw it out here. So, here's my entry for the game.

Author and confused actor together search for salvation in prison (9, 10)

I know most of this blog's readers are movie lovers. Are there any like-minded wordgame lovers too who wanna take a shot? (ofcourse with explanation :-)?

PS: I have not linked to the other blog since it obviously contains my solution :) Will do so after the solution is revealed.

PS2: Readers who don't want to spoil the fun for other readers by publishing the solution too early can email me their solution too :)

Monday, May 23, 2005

2004 Dinakaran-Medimix Awards

Sun TV screened the awards show on Sunday. Overall, it was a typical Tamil awards show with ill-prepared comperers(Sriman and a woman, whose name I did not catch), gaudy sets, poorly-choregraphed dances and a sweating audience. On the positive side, the awards presentations themselves went smoothly, most of the awards seem well-deserved and almost all the winners had really short acceptance speeches(unless there was some editing by Sun TV). But there was a large gallery of stars present and thats pretty much the point of the show, isn't it (especially considering the winners were already known!)?

Following were the winners in the main categories(all of them were present to accept their award):
Best Film: Autograph
Best Director: Cheran (Autograph)
Best Actor: Vijay (Gilli)
Best Actress: Jyothika (Perazhagan)
Best Music Director: Yuvan Shankar Raja (Manmadhan)
Best Male Playback Singer: Karthik (7G Rainbow Colony)
Best Lyricist: Pa.Vijay (Autograph)
Best Cinematographer: Vijay Milton (Kaadhal)
Best Debutant Actor: Ravi Krishna (7G Rainbow colony)
Best Debutant Actress: Sandhya (Kaadhal)
Best Comedian: Vadivelu (Giri, Aiye)
Best Character actor: Vijayan (7G Rainbow Colony)
Best Character actress: Devayani (New)
Best Villian: Prakash Raj (Gilli)
Best Screenplay: Simbhu (Manmadhan)
Best Debutant Director: Radha Mohan (Azhagiya Theeye)
Best Choreographer: Raju Sundaram (Gilli)
Best Stunt Master: Kanal Kannan (M. Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi)
Best Art director: Rajeevan (Madurey)
Best Child artiste: Arunkumar (Kaadhal)
Best Art Film: Kamaraj
Lifetime Achievement Awards: Vaali, Nagesh

And now, a few awards for the show...

Cutest Actress: Jyothika (this woman really knows how to dress and present herself!)

Funniest Joke:
Sriman: Cheran, is it true you are going to take Autograph Part II?
Cheran: Yes, I just need to love 4 more women first. Will direct it after that!

Best stage performance: Rahasiya (Seenaa Thaanaa... from Vasoolraja M.B.B.S)

Most stone-faced actor: Vijay (no expression whatsoever, even when Sriman talked about him)

Most embarassing moment: Nagesh referring to Kamal as his sagodharan before correcting it to "like my son"!

Most pleasant surprise: Jyothika's acceptance speech in Tamil

Worst Speech: Simbhu (came off as arrogant and rambling)

Best Speech: Vijay (managed to be modest, praise his peers and please the audience)

Most necessary but missed segment: In Memoriam (Soundarya, etc.)

Naayagan's Time

Time magazine's movie critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schikel have selected their all-time best 100 movies and our own Naayagan finds a place on the list(other Indian films selected are Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy and Guru Dutt's Pyaasa). In Corliss' words, "... Ratnam has no such difficulty blending melodrama and music, violence and comedy, realism and delirium, into a two-and-a-half-hour demonstration that, when a gangster's miseries are mounting, the most natural solution is to go singin' in the rain."

Naayagan, is without doubt, my favorite Tamil movie of all time. The movie proved that Manirathnam, whose previous film was Mouna Raagam, was here to stay and drew from Kamalhassan his best performance yet. I have seen the film probably a dozen times since I watched it in Udhayam theater back in 1987 and have been irresistably hooked every single time. I have cheered Kamal's comeback to the policeman; sympathised with Saranya's innocence-laden reply to Kamal; laughed at Kamal's son's impertinent question at the lineup; smiled at Nizhalgal Ravi's gesture of respect to his father; choked up at the old woman's supreme sacrifice to save Naicker from the clutches of the police; and nodded my head in understanding at Kamal's answer to his grandson's question "Neenga Nallavaraa, Kettavaraa?"

Direction, acting, screenplay, music, cinematography - this is one of those rare instances where every aspect of cinema came together to create a true classic. While Roger Ebert chooses to throw the world's attention on a movie like Taal, which simply reinforces(and not too well either!) the world's impression of Indian movies, I'm extremely happy that Time has been able to sniff out Naayagan, a regional movie, for this attention. Hopefully, this selection drives a few more non-Indians to check out the film(it is available on Netflix) and realize that not all Indian cinema is filled with happy families, sappy romance and overt sentiments.

Way to go Velu Naickar...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Anniyan Trailer - The Longer Version

Saw Kanaa Kanden Saturday evening and an added bonus was the full-length trailer of Anniyan. Clips from all the songs were shown in this version and they definitely seemed to be picturized in an eye-poppingly grand manner. Kumaari..., picturised in the Amsterdam flower show, offered some breathtaking shots of the beds of colorful flowers. Andankaakkaa... was a riot of colors with everything from lorries to houses to mountains being painted with lots of different images. Kannum Kannum... looked hitech and almost futuristic in both locations and the getups of Vikram and Sada. Iyengaru Veetu... looked rich and colorful while Vikram and Yana Gupta danced to Kaadhal Yaanai... in a trendy club setting.

A few pieces of dialog accompanied the scenes, which also included a few not seen in the trailer on the web. The trailer definitely hinted at a Gentleman/Indian kind of film with a timid Vikram getting fed up with the ills of society and becoming a vigilante. But a couple of shots showing Vikram's transformation(accompanied by imagery of a frog) were quite intriguing.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Happy Birthday Laletta!

Mohanlal celebrates his birthday today and Sify has a list of films that were important milestones in his career. Here, in no particular order, are a few more of my favorites starring Lalettan...

Kilukkam - Another teaming with Priyadarshan resulted in this comedy classic. Lal played another loveable character of a tourist guide who is forced to take in Revathi, who is looking for her biological father. He magnanimously took a secondary role in the second half, which is a hilarious battle of wits between Thilakan and Revathi.

Dasaratham - Lal plays a single man who wants a child while Rekha, for financial reasons, agrees to be the surrogate mother. The mature theme was handled with sensitivity and the movie was an emotional roller-coaster with a poignant climax.

Narasimham - The blockbuster that cemented Lal's status as superstar and confirmed his larger-than-life image. Lal plays a dada who tries to redeem himself in the eyes of his father. Mone Dinesha was his hugely popular catchphrase and Mammootty had a cameo as a lawyer.

Sadhayam - Mohanlal's lack of an image trap was obvious in this stark film that opened with him on death row and went on to show the reasons behind his murder of a young girl. A heartrending film with a brilliant performance by him.

No. 20 Madras Mail - A film more notable for its pairing of Mohanlal and Mammootty, the two superstars of Malayalam cinema, it still was an interesting whodunnit that moved at a fast pace. Mohanlal made acting drunk look so easy!

Aaram Thamburaan - The fights between a chauvinistic Mohanlal and a feisty Manju Warrier were the highlight of this crowd-pleaser where Lal played the longlost thamburaan of a distinguished estate.

Moonaam Mura - To me, this was the movie that indicated Lal's versatility as the romantic, comic hero played a commando without missing a beat. His mission here was to rescue a busload of kidnapped passengers, which included a minister. No songs and a taut script made this a great action film.

Pavithram - Lal played the affectionate brother to perfection in this film that portrayed brother-sister affection without the usual maudlin sentiments and artificial emotions. His underplayed performance in the climax is guaranteed to bring a lump to your throat.

Hearty birthday wishes to one of India's finest and most versatile actors...

Friday, May 20, 2005

2 New Reviews

2 new reviews are online at bbreviews. Next week will probably see the 500th review on the site :-) Also hoping to have the long-delayed post on my defense of my reviews at that time.

Blockbuster Strikes Back!

Blockbuster, as expected, is not taking the Netflix-Walmart union lying down. It announced today that it would offer two free months of unlimited free rentals to Netflix and Walmart customers who switch to Blockbuster's online DVD rental service. The switchers also get a free DVD of their choice and the chance to sign up at the rate they currently pay at Netflix and Walmart! Quite a direct(and IMO, cheap) attack on Netflix. But definitely doesn't tempt me :-)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Anniyan Watch

Buzz on a movie is supposed to increase as the release date nears. But Anniyan seems to be going the other way with its repeated postponements! There's been no news about the movie since Vikram's mention that it will release either 5/27 or 6/4 and the audio doesn't seem to be doing great shakes either, having sold less than 50,000 cassettes so far.

But the movie's website has been revamped completely. There are a few pictures I haven't seen so far and the backgrounds are very cool with a dark and gothic feel. On the other hand, they've gone overboard with the graphics, which are quite cheesy. And the language could use some grammar checks(He even know the hidden crime of yours??!!)

Boost for Netflix

Netflix received some good news today when Walmart announced that it is going to shut down its online rental service and allow current customers to sign up for Netflix at their current low rate. The signs are in place already since Netflix has a huge banner on top advertising Walmart's low prices for DVDs while Walmart's DVD shopping site links to Netflix on the side. While actual subscriber and revenue impact is supposed to be negligible, it is a huge moral boost for Netflix in the DVD rental war against Blockbuster.

I love Netflix. What started partially as a dislike of Blockbuster has grown into genuine liking for the trendsetter in online DVD rentals. We have a bricks-and-mortar Blockbuster within walking distance of our house. And I have been urged by my wife quite a few times to switch to their online service based both on their low price and the 2 monthly coupons for store rentals. But this turned out to be one of those rare occassions when I stuck to my guns :-) I actually feel loyal to Netflix and the difference in prices is just not enough to overcome that.

Netflix is a boon for movie lovers. It is relatively inexpensive, extremely convenient and has a huge collection. I rent about 8-10 movies a month from there, which would've cost me upwards of $35 at Blockbuster. Paying monthly has several other advantages too. I have no hesitation about renting movies I have already seen, a fact that is most useful when having my parents or in-laws here and renting some movies solely for them. I don't mind returning a movie without watching it completely. And my wife and I don't have to select a movie we both like. She can rent Raising Helen if she wants. I'll just watch Rififi the next day :-) With a San Jose outlet center, I get my movies the day after they have shipped and since they ship movies the day before they are released, I see new movies the same day they are released.

Ofcourse, Netflix's troubles are far from over. Blockbuster has the necessary clout to win a pricing war(which they've already done). Amazon, which already has a DVD rental service in England and owns IMDb, has long been rumored to start one in the US. And on-demand cable and online downloads are making steady inroads into the rental market as more households get hi-speed internet connections. But I admire Netflix as a company and hope it tackles these successfully.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

To Ma'am With Love(and Admiration)

Yesterday evening was the Spring Program at my daughter's preschool and all the kids in her class were dressed up in bright and colorful spring dresses, looking oh-so-cute. Under the watchful eyes of their two teachers, they sang a few rhymes, danced to a couple of them and ended the program with a flourish, with a curtsy and a 'flying' kiss. The proud parents(of who I was one, ofcourse) were all looking on proudly, grinning, videotaping(remember the scene in Sixth Sense where the start of the school play sees all parents lifting their video cameras in unison? Shyamalan was right on the mark!) and snapping pictures.

Even as I was watching the li'l ones belt out those rhymes, I couldn't help being amazed at what their two teachers had achieved. It is soooo difficult getting a 3 1/2 yr old to do anything organized. I mean, it takes a whole lot of patience to get a single photo of my daughter the way I want it. But here were not 1 but 24 kids in that age group, standing in a circle, singing rhymes on cue and twirling around to the music with their partners. These are kids who rush to their parents on seeing them at the end of the day but not one of them as much as waved to their parents while the program was going on.

Not to take anything away from the kids themselves but I wholeheartedly admire what the teachers have done(and continue doing on a daily basis) - instilling discipline, teaching positive values, educating.... the list goes on. Any time my daughter comes home and shows off something new(like when she read a 3-letter word the other day), I am amazed at how the teachers managed to teach her the concept. When we think about it, its what the teachers are doing today that's going to be shaping the inhabitants of the world(and hence, the world itself) tomorrow. Gosh thats a lot of pressure!

Maybe because I spent more years with the same set of teachers in school(PSBB, K.K.Nagar), I remember them much better than my teachers in college.

- The English teacher who laid the foundation for my love of the language to this day with her wonderful command over it

- the Maths teacher was a very sweet lady but earned our class' collective ire one day by poattu koduthufying(some guys in our class were imitating other teachers at her urging and she revealed that to those teachers, landing us in big trouble)

- the Biology teacher who enjoyed the class as much as we did(her class was filled with excursions and field trips under the guise of 'specimen collecting' and she was the main reason I took the class though I hated dissections and knew I would never ever become a doctor!)

- the Physics and Chemistry teachers who were very brainy but equally serious and had a knack for simplifying even complex concepts(of which there were quite a few in both subjects)

- the Tamil teacher and her innovative methods of teaching(she made sure we understood the underlying meaning of a pazhamozhi by making us perform short plays that illustrated their meaning).

To these - and all my other - teachers I just want to say "Thank You". And to all teachers out there, a heartfelt "I really admire what you are doing".

Something for the Guys!

- Mallika Sherawat made an appearance at Cannes yesterday since her movie with Jackie Chan, The Myth, is premiering there. I'm sure she turned a few heads in that dress! Reminded me of David Letterman's famous introduction of Dolly Parton, "Ladies and Gentlemen. Here they are, Dolly Parton!" Chris Rock used a similar line when he introduced Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz at this year's Oscars :-)

- Rediff has reproduced In Touch magazine's list of the top ten Hollywood actresses with the best curves. I wanted to come up with a similar list of Tamil actresses i.e. actresses who have been in a reasonable number of Tamil films(can't think of a more enjoyable list compilation than that :-). But the activity turned out to be too distracting at work! But for the moment, here are three who would definitely make it to the top 5 in the list - Simran, Banupriya, Shobana :-)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What's Next for Rajni and Kamal?

- Once a Rajnikanth movie is released, rumors about his next film immediately begin to circulate. With Chandramukhi released and a certified superhit, and Rajni showing interest in acting in more films, rumors about his next venture are slowly heating up. The latest rumor has him starring in the Tamil remake of the recent Amitabh Bachan-Akshay Kumar starrer Waqt. While Rajni will obviously don Amitabh's role, his son's role will be taken on by 'Jayam' Ravi, the movie will be directed by Ravi's brother Raja and produced by their father Editor Mohan.

The news also has a personal side since another rumor doing the rounds is that 'Jayam' Ravi is all set to become Rajni's second son-in-law and Rajni doing this movie for Mohan will cement the relationship with his would-be sammandhi. Lets wait and see how true these turn out to be...

- Meanwhile Kamalhassan has signed on for another project before beginning to hunt and play in Gautham's Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. He is going to reprise his role as the friend/doctor in Stree Samanya, the Kannada remake of Sathi Leelavathi. The movie is to be directed by his good friend Ramesh Arvind.

Kamal will move on to Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu right after completing the Kannada film. Latest news on the film has him playing a double role with one of the roles said to be a cop while the other is a secret for now.

Feeble Fireworks

[Pic Courtesy James Patterson Website]

James Patterson collaborates with another author for 4th of July, his fourth book in the Women's Murder Club series, and it shows. The book has two major plotlines. One of them is typical Patterson and moves frantically with some surprising twists while the other is more emotional and romantic. Luckily, the two plotlines are almost completely separate, with the 'emotional' plotline being resolved completely before the 'thriller' plotline. The result is an uneven read that grabs our attention only in the last third of the book.

The book finds Lindsay Boxer, a cop, shooting and killing a young girl and injuring her even younger brother. The kids' father launches a case against her and her whole future is now in the hands of a jury. When she moves to her sister's house in Half Moon Bay for some quiet time, she comes across a string of killings, whose MO reminds her of her first case, an unsolved homicide of a kid. Naturally, she starts to involve herself in the investigation.

Unlike the earlier 3 entries in the Women's Murder Club series, this one is completely about Lindsay. The other 2 members of the club make only a few appearances and even then, it is only to provide moral support to Lindsay. While that doesn't really make a difference to how much we enjoy the book, more active involvement of the other two would have made it feel like a more legitimate entry in the series for longtime readers.

The books in this series have always dealt with one of the club members going through an emotional crisis. Here, a major portion of the book is devoted to Lindsay's trial. This is also the time when she gets to spend some lovey-dovey time with Joe, who she hooked up with in 3rd Degree. The court scenes are somewhat interesting but since the resolution of the trial is a foregone conclusion, this segment is never gripping or involving. The only thing that kept me from skipping a few pages was the scattered information about her other case.

But the book takes off once it wholeheartedly gets into the Half Moon Bay murders. With Lindsay's trial closed, there are no roadblocks as it moves forward and I read the entire third of the book in a single sitting. Sure Lindsay has a few leaps of intuition and things fall into her lap a little too easily. But it is a thrilling read with some knockout twists. Issues(like the link to her unsolved case) are resolved cleanly and there are no obvious loose ends.

4th of July is overall quite weak. If Patterson had stuck to the single plotline of the killings he would have ended up with a smaller but much more enjoyable book.

Monday, May 16, 2005

No Majaa for Trisha!

Trisha has opted out of Majaa, the Vikram starrer :-( While the official reason seems to be unavailability of dates, the unofficial reason is said to be the miniscule role of the heroine in the hero-centric film(after all, its about an old man and his two sons going up against bad guys!). Looks like Trisha learned her lesson after Thiruppaachi after all! But this is surprising news since there were reports earlier that the heroine's role was being beefed up after Trisha got on board. Oh well...

Front-runners for the role now are Nayantara and Asin, with Asin having an edge since Vikram had earlier given a thumbs down for Nayan after her pairing with senior actors. If it is Asin, it would be quite a coup for her since she already has films with Vijay(Sivakasi), Ajith(Godfather) and Surya(Gajini) in her kitty. Personally, I'm rooting for Nayan. I hope she overcomes the rather unfair Cradle 2 Grave jinx :-)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Arindhum Ariyaamalum Audio

Out of the next generation(as in, after Ilaiyaraja and A.R.Rahman) of music directors in the Tamil cinefield today, there are three composers whose albums I download automatically - Harris Jayaraj, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Vidyasagar. Out of the three, YSR has so far impressed me with his slow, soft, melodious compositions for low-budget, moderately offbeat films like Kaadhal Konden, 7/G Rainbow Colony, Raam, etc. His style of music doesn't seem to fit bigger, star-focused, commercial ventures like Bose, Manmadhan, etc., where his music seems forced and very average.

I'm not sure exactly which category Arindhum Ariyaamalum falls into. It looks to be a low-budget love story with new faces. But that hasn't stopped YSR. Its songs are all upbeat, fast numbers with emphasis on beats rather than melody. But the album does boast of some very listenable numbers in his slowly-emerging distinctive style. I just wish he'd chosen better singers.

1. En Kannodu...
A middle-eastern sounding song clip starts off this number sung by YSR himself (Sting's Desert Rose anyone?!). Like ARR, YSR too has a husky voice that adds a new dimension to some songs. His voice does suit the song here and bring out the singer's yearning for his lover. At the same time, his faltering at high pitches(of which the song has some) and his lack of proper pronounciation(especially the L sound) affects some portions of the song.

2. Konjam Konjam...
The singer has a nice, rich voice that flows smoothly and almost makes us overlook the pronounciation issues(Konjam sounds like Konjum). The Ye Penne... interludes, which are sung by males and have some strong beats, come as a nice contrast to the melodious tune of the rest of the song and provide some variety inside the song.

3. Sil Sil Sil Sil...
The song, which is all about rain, is currently my favorite on the album. It has a certain joy and exuberance to it and one can almost picture people dancing in the rain and sloshing water around as they sing this one. The parts sung by the kids are especially spirited . My only complaint is about the lyrics, which are strictly pedestrian. A few catchy metaphors(a la Andhi Mazhai Pozhigirathu...) would have made the number more complete.

If you are stuck indoors and feeling down because of rain, just put this song on. You'll surely feel better...

4. Thee Pidikka...
An average number that catches our attention with the use of a small section of an old M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar number. The remixed section fits in surprisingly well with the rest of the song. The song is sung spiritedly by both singers, especially the female.

5. Yele Yele Yele...
A fast and catchy group song that for some unknown reason, reminds me of the Collegeukku Povom... number from Kovil. The tune has a folksy touch to it while the instrumentation is all western, providing an interesting combination.

Friday, May 13, 2005

3 new reviews

3 new reviews(including Sachein) are up at bbreviews. Readers who admired my patience for watching Sachein, especially after watching movies like Rififi and The Killing - I'll expect further admiration after you catch up on the reviews of the other two movies :-)

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Sachein is a good change of pace for Vijay( and viewers), from his recent line of action- and violence-packed masala films like Thiruppaachi, Madurey and Gilli. Since the actor has reiterated his belief, in numerous interviews, that only masala films will be successful in the current atmosphere, his selection of a 'soft' movie(atleast in story if not in execution) itself is a welcome step. But still, it is quite obvious that the director has struggled to tailor it to Vijay's current image.

Having decided on acting in a romantic movie, Vijay has naturally selected a story similar to the story in Kushi, his last big hit in the romantic genre. Vijay selecting Kushi as the scale for this movie is understandable considering its success but at several places, Sachein seems like an exact replica of Kushi. From its core problem of ego separating two lovers to the presence of the 'other woman' who stokes jealousy in the girl's mind, Sachein follows the exact same storyline.

Since its a love story, a large part of Sachein's success depends on its lead characters and the director has been successful in their characterization. Sachein, with his easy-going nature, is a loveable guy and it is easy to accept Genelia's feelings for him. His playfulness and frank nature make us smile more than a few times and he has some good observations, which manage to not sound preachy like Vijay's comments in some previous films, on love. Genelia's Shalini is also a three-dimensional character rather than a cardboard cutout. Her anger at Vijay pooh-poohing her looks and her ego are all believable and make the character quite human.

Naturally, the movie is most engaging when focussing on its two leads. Their initial fights as Vijay irritates Genelia are fun and enjoyable and its nice seeing Genelia's attitude towards Vijay undergo a gradual change. There are also a couple of nice touches like Genelia not believing Vijay's story about her father's accident and a similar scenario being repeated later with the roles reversed. The point where Vijay reveals his love to Genelia is a surprise and the way it is handled is also nice.

Director John doesn't seem to have concerned himself with anything other than the characters and their issues. Even the main characters float around with no information on any aspect of their life other than what we see onscreen. Though they are college students, there is not a single scene of Vijay or Genelia attending a class and we never see Vijay's place of residence. Bipasha appears suddenly, rolls around with Vijay, appears to be trying to seduce him and then exits with a lame-ass excuse.

The songs and the fights are clearly designed to ensure that Vijay's fan's don't walk out. Barring one song, the rest are of the duppanguthu variety and don't gel in what is essentially a soft romance. The fights too are inserted awkwardly (but admittedly, they, especially the second fight, have been choreographed and picturized well). There are quite a few movie in-jokes about Kushi, Mouna Raagam, etc. Depressingly, there are also several double entendre dialogs (many of which have been censored) spoken by everybody, including Vijay (tellingly, the film earns a UA certificate even after the silenced lines).

Vijay himself seems to have enjoyed the break from kambus and aruvaals. He looks young enough to pass as a college student(something you couldn't say about Ajith in Ji) and is quite charming. But there are a few times when I felt his expressions and mannerisms go a little too far. Genelia is pretty and has an expressive face too. She just needs to cut down on her "Shut up"s. Vadivelu is inserted into the movie using the cliched excuse of an eternally-failing college student. Though he has definitely grown on me with some recent performances in movies like Giri and Chandramukhi, his track here is rarely funny. Songs are all catchy even if not memorable.

One More!

Still on the topic of Hollywood remakes of Indian films, a Tamil film too seems to have a shot at being remade in Hollywood. Our own Simbhu has mentioned at a press conference in Hyderabad yesterday, that he had sent 20th Century Fox the storyline of his Manmadhan, which they liked. They have apparently asked him to send them the full script, which he is now working on!

So would it be called Playboy or Casanova? And who could play the lead?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Killing

[Pic Courtesy IMDb]

The Killing is Stanley Kubrick's early entry in the heist genre. A wonderfully constructed heist movie, the film is even more admirable because of its age. What stands out in the rather short movie(its less than an hour and a half) is not the planning or the execution of the heist itself but Kubrick's directorial brilliance in picturising it. The film's attention to detail, picturization, construction and technique would have earned any director raves even today. So it is amazing that Kubrick did something like this almost 50 years ago.

Sterling Hayden plays an ex-con who plans the $2 million robbery of a racetrack. To pull it off, he assembles together a gang made up of a cashier at the betting window, the bartender at the tracks, a cop, a sharpshooter and a goon. Each of the gang members has their own need for the money and has a crucial part to play in the heist. But the cashier's wife, who is having an affair with a gangster, has her own plans for the loot.

Kubrick moves forward and backward in time for almost the entire picture, allowing him to show events happening at the same time in different locations, in parallel (Manirathnam used the same technique, watered down and much less complicated though, in Aaydha Ezhuthu). It has the potential to be confusing but he guides it with a firm hand, using a few events(like a particular race) as anchors for us to understand the timelines in the different threads. So we get different points of view of the same incident, depending upon who the current thread is focussing on. The technique ensures that the movie has our attention completely.

The Killing is mostly about the planning. We are in the shoes of each participant as he executes his part of the plan. A voiceover narration gives us the details as each character does the needful. The narration is initially a bit odd but we soon get used to it and it eventually becomes indispensable as the screenplay becomes more complicated due to the multiple threads.

Though the heist itself is quick, it allows to see how the execution of the individual plans proceeds in sequence, enabling Hayden to actually commit the robbery. And the repetition of the same time period from different points of view continues here too, giving us a clear picture of the role of each player.

We do get a peek into the personal lives of all the gang members but the ones who garner our attention are Elisha Cook Jr., as the cuckolded husband, and Marie Windsor, as his dominating wife. Their scenes are filled with delicious lines(mostly from Marie) and marvellously handled. His desperation for her love, even as she puts him down mercilessly, is almost tragic and the way she manipulates him when she needs something from him is brutal. Elisha and Marie trade most of the best lines in the movie.

The Killing too ends with the moral that crime doesn't pay. There's even a little comedy in the rather tiny reason behind the final stumble that separates Hayden and his money.

Like Rififi, The Killing too is a must watch for lovers of the heist genre. They just don't make 'em like they used to!

Remakes in the Other Direction

Indian cinema has for long been remaking Hollywood films unofficially(we're still talking about Kamal's part in this). Maybe we could call them freemakes(can I patent that?!). So its surprising when Indian movies are selected as the source for Hollywood remakes. And today there's news on not one but two such remakes.

- 20th Century Fox has acquired the rights to remake Vidhu Vinod Chopra's hit comedy Munnabhai MBBS. The film, titled Gangsta MD, will star comedian Chris Rock and will be directed by Mira Nair.

- More surprising is Malayalam director Vinayan's claim that he had been contacted by Hollywood director Ron Howard(the man behind Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, etc.) to remake his Adbudhadhweep. The reason behind my surprise is twofold. One, the movie was a washout when it was released. And two, though I haven't seen the movie, the plot sounds similar to Gulliver's Travels, which has had several TV movie adaptations in Hollywood.

I guess these news items point to a further increase in popularity for Indian cinema in the world arena. Thats a good thing.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Virumaandi and David Gale

[Pics Courtesy Netflix]

Kamalhassan has been known to look frequently to Hollywood films for his Tamil ventures(his supporters call this 'being inspired' while his detractors call it 'copying or plagiarising'!). Senthil's post has quite an exhaustive list of Kamal's movies that have been based on English films. It includes movies I knew about(Tenali / What About Bob?, Avvai Shanmugi / Mrs.Doubtfire) as well as remakes I did not know about(RaajaPaarvai / Butterflies are Free, Hey Ram / Barabbas). I recently found another instance of Kamal's inspirations that I had not heard about before.

I loved Virumaandi mainly for its screenplay that showed things from two perspectives, revealing how even a small tweak in the narration of a story could radically alter a person's impression of an event. For Virumaandi, Kamal has been accused of copying Rashomon , something I don't agree with. While the characters in Kurosawa's classic too had different versions of the same incident, it was unclear if the versions were simply from their different points-of-view or the result of lying. It was one result but four quite different stories leading upto it. But Virumaandi was different in that both versions had the same story with minor variations(that were clear lies). The interesting part was seeing how a small nudge could alter the world's perspective of any happening.

This refusal to accept that Virumaandi was inspired by Rashomon made me believe that it was an original. So, imagine my surprise when I saw The Life of David Gale, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet. In the film, Kate appears as a reporter who gets to interview Spacey, who is in jail and facing the death penalty for the murder of a colleague. The movie is against the death penalty and tries to make its case by showing us that a completely innocent man could die for a crime he has not committed. Virumaandi too is clearly against capital punishment and gives us Rohini interviewing Kamal, who is in jail and facing the death penalty. Sure Kamal uses this as a jumping-off point for a completely different story but the coincidences are hard to miss. I am pretty certain that the idea for Virumaandi came from David Gale.

All our top actors too have acted in remakes(Rajni in Chandramukhi, Muthu, Veera, etc., Vijay in Gilli, Friends, etc.). But Kamal is usually singled out for criticism in this arena. I think there are two reasons for this. One, people are irked by Kamal's refusal to credit or even acknowledge the source of his inspiration. When Kamal says "I have never seen What About Bob?" before Tenali's release or claims that he had the idea for Avvai Shanmugi even before Mrs.Doubtfire was made and did not copy from it, that gets to people. Two, the fact that he does not pinpoint the source when it is a Hollywood film that has not been widely seen, gives the impression that he is trying to pull a fast one (with Tamil viewers becoming more familiar with world cinema, its not going to be that easy for Kamal to quietly sneak in inspirations in his movies. This might well be the reason for Kamal legally purchasing the rights to a foreign romantic film recently!).

I, for one, have no problem with Kamal being inspired by Hollywood. It may be a commercial move. It may be his fondness of the original. Or it may arise from a genuine desire to expose the Tamil viewer to the stories and techniques of other cinema in a language they understand. Whatever the reason, I'm happy as long as it results in better or atleast enjoyable cinema(and in many cases, it has). After all, Kamal is not alone in looking elsewhere for inspiration. Some very enjoyable movies(a recent example would be Tarantino's Kill Bill) have been inspired by cinema from another part of the world. I just wish Kamal would be more forthright about it.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Angel Island

Spent a fun day at Angel Island on Saturday. The island itself doesn't have much to see but has a bit of history(its the "Ellis Island of the West") and a number of biking and hiking trails that offer views of San Francisco and the bay. Not sure if it would've been the right place if it was just me, my wife and our daughter. But it was a fun place for a group picnic and I played a li'l bit of volleyball, ate the (catered) barbeque lunch, went on a small hike and took a tram tour of the island with my daughter.

Here are some pictures from the trip [you can see larger versions by clicking on the pics - Highly Recommended :-) ]

The ferry to the island

View of Golden Gate Bridge from the ferry

"The Rock" i.e. Alcatraz

Seagulls over our ferry

Seagull resting its wings on the ferry

Sailboats docked at Angel Island

A wildflower on the island

Downtown San Francisco (with Alcatraz in the foreground)

View of the bay (with supposedly multimillion dollar houses in the background)

Another flower found on the island

Friday, May 06, 2005

Angelic Weekend Ahead

Wife has her company picnic at Angel Island tomorrow. So no sleeping late since we gotta catch the 9.45 ferry from Pier 41 in San Francisco. With the winter, the rains, wife's pregnancy, etc. its been so long since I went anywhere, even on a day trip. So I'm really looking forward to this one. Hope it turns out to be a nice spring day tomorrow...

Karumbu Thinna Kooli

I was recently contacted by the CEO of an online Indian movies sale and rental website, which according to him, will be organized along the lines of Netflix, with Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam sections. He wants to use my reviews from bbreviews on the site and see if I was interested in becoming their 'official' movie critic for Tamil movies. He is also willing to negotiate terms regarding my 'compensation'.

Copyright is definitely not a big concern for Indian websites. I have seen my reviews being used on several sites without permission(while some of them atleast credit the review to me, some sites have added their own "by ..." byline). I have even seen my review of Ajith's Poovellaam Un Vaasam being used as the synopsis on the DVD of the film. So, I was happy that the CEO approached me officially rather than copying, or even linking to, my reviews. It does speak well of the ethics and professionalism of the company.

My response(ofcourse, just to myself!) when I saw his email was "Karumbu thinna kooliya?!". But since he has put the ball in my court regarding how I should be compensated, I am now stuck. I do not even have a jumping-off point to kickstart the negotiations. Have any of you placed a price on something similar(I guess you could call it 'intellectual property'). Putting yourself in my shoes, are there any suggestions on a reasonable first quote from my side? And another question... would you guys sign up for an Indian movies rental website?

Thursday, May 05, 2005


[Pic Courtesy Apple]

While there are situations where I use an MP3 player(while running at the gym, during the walk after lunch, on an airplane, etc.), I'm not one of those guys who walks around with earbuds seemingly attached permanently to the ears. So while I have always had an eye on the incredibly sleek and cool-looking Apple mini iPod, I could never get myself to plunk down the $250 that the MP3 player cost. So I settled for the iAudio CW200. At around $80, its 128MB(that holds 25 - 30 Tamil songs) seemed like a good deal.

But the desire for the mini iPod never really died down. I got my chance when Citibank Online offered a free iPod for opening an account and paying atleast 2 monthly bills using their Billpay (they've been offering some really cool goodies to sign up. My friend got himself a Sony DVD player and recently there were offering $200 in cash). Since I pay all my bills online anyway, this wasn't a major departure for me and I quickly signed up and moved 2 of my monthly bills to Citibank.

Its been about 3 months since I opened the account and I finally received my mini iPod today. Its silver and is supposed to hold 1000 songs in its 4GB space. This is my first Apple product and the first noticeable thing was the packaging. It was simple and elegant with a single line "Designed by Apple in California" on the box. The package itself opened like a book with the mini iPod neatly encased in the middle and accessories hidden in boxes on either side. The iPod itself is a little larger than a credit card and very impressive to look at.

Needless to say, I had it connected to my computer the next minute, moving over a few of the albums I've been listening to, in a flash. Inspite of the small package, the sound quality is awesome. And since I've used the other MP3 player, the mini iPod's click wheel seems very easy to use and makes navigation a breeze.

The iPod created a revolution in the MP3 player market, helping Apple very quickly capture a leading share of the market. Now I know why. Let the music begin...

A Silly Treasure Hunt

[Pic Courtesy IMDb]

One can almost picture the producers salivating on hearing the premise behind National Treasure. It is a treasure hunt with a string of clues leading to a huge treasure(like The Da Vinci Code), it has a cool protagonist(like James Bond) and features a series of action sets in exotic locales(like the Indiana Jones trilogy). With the formulae from three bonafide blockbusters, how could the film fail? But unfortunately, it does. It is silly, completely unbelievable and way too long.

Nicolas Cage plays a bounty hunter in search of a fabled treasure that has been lost for centuries. A piece of paper handed down from his great grandfather leads him to a ship and from the a clue on the ship, he learns that the map to the treasure is on the back of the Declaration of Independence. In order to prevent another bounty hunter(with more sinister plans) from stealing the historical document, Cage steals it himself and goes after the treasure.

I love puzzles and riddles and was hoping that the fun part of the movie would be seeing how Cage solves the clues leading him to the treasure. But the clues here are so vague that they can be interpreted in several ways. And the hunt and some of its components are so complicated that we don't believe for even a single moment that people in their right minds would have actually planned and created them in the hope that someone would solve them.

Worse, Cage doesn't solve the clues through any logical or analytical thought process. He goes into a "thinking mode" when he sees a cryptic message while people around him look at him expectantly and then comes up with a sudden explanation that we wouldn't have thought of in a thousand years. In order to limit the running time to acceptable limits, it is understandably necessary for Cage's interpretations to be right. But even with cinematic liberties, the way he finds stuff is jaw-droppingly silly. For instance, the line "the secret lies with Charlotte" somehow tells him that Charlotte is a ship. After a convoluted explanation dealing with currents and ice, he ends up looking for the ship north of the Arctic circle. And when he digs a few inches into the snow, he hits something solid and brushes away the snow to reveal a nameplate that reads "Charlotte"! Oh Come On!!

The one enjoyable sequence in the movie is the actual robbery of the Declaration of Independence. It has some neat ideas(I liked the way he gets to read the keys the previous entrantant into the room typed in) and is picturized well. From there on, the movie goes downhill with each subsequent clue being sillier than the last one(like an x-ray glass hidden in the brick of an old church!)

Towards the end I didnt care whether he found the treasure or not and simply wanted the chase to end! The underground sequence seems to go on forever and even has a father-son moment reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There are any number of false climaxes, each of them more irritating since we realise the movie hasn't ended!

Don't go looking for this treasure!

Anniyan Updates

3 disappointing updates on the Shankar-Vikram magnum opus...

- Our predictions about Anniyan weren't too far off! While producer 'Oscar' Ravichandran earlier 'confirmed' that the movie would be released worldwide on May 20, Vikram now says that the film will be ready for release on May 27 or positively by June 4!

- Check out the slideshow of Vikram's various looks in the film. Am I wrong or does he look good only sans makeup in the 3rd photo? He looks positively gay with the long hair, cheesy in the black robe and old in the Brahmin look.

- The barebones website doesn't inspire much confidence either... An interview with Vikram and a gallery(of photos already seen in other magazines/websites) are the only goodies on there.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Next Read

[Pic Courtesy James Patterson's Website]

James Patterson has two different series going in parallel. The first one stars Alex Cross, till recently a policeman with the Washington DC police department. The second, more recent one is set on the West Coast(San Francisco) and has crimes investigated by an unofficial Women's Murder Club, that is composed of 4 women - a policewoman, a lawyer, a medical examiner and a reporter.

4th of July is the 4th book in the Women's Murder Club series(the books have so far had numbers indicating their position in the series, in their titles. The previous three books were 1st to Die, 2nd Chance and 3rd Degree). Like all Patterson's reads, these too have been unexceptional but fast reads with short chapters and a few twists. But the prolific author gave the series a good shake in 3rd Degree when he, completely unexpectedly, killed off one of the four women of the Club.

Thanks to our local library, I got my hands on 4th of July today evening. Like the earlier three books in this series, this one too appears to puts one of the 3 remaining women in the center of a personal conflict while the Club tries to solve a series of seemingly unrelated murders. Can't wait to start reading!

Maayaa Maayaa...

Ram.C has a cool optical illusion picture in his post here. Reminded me of some pictures I had that incorporate the same kind of illusion. This one's my absolute favorite

[Click on pic for larger version]

Creating a single image is difficult enough. Incorporating two images into one picture is truly amazing. The talent and imagination of the artist who did this is mind-boggling...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Anniyan Audio

Anniyan can be considered the acid test for Harris Jayaraj. The music director had a fabulous 2003 with movies like Saamy, Lesaa Lesaa and Kaakka Kaakka but didn't quite make a mark in 2004. Considering A.R.Rehman's soundtracks for previous Shankar films, Harris had some big shoes to fill this time. One could say he has not risen to the occasion but at the same time, he has not completely let Shankar down either. Anniyan is definitely not his personal best but does include a couple of good tracks. And keeping in mind Shankar's talent at song picturization, the other tracks cannot be completely written off either.

1. Andankaakkaa...
A folksy tune that reminds one of Uppu Karuvadu..., especially because of the Shankar connection. It is a fast song capable of getting our foot tapping. Jessie Gift's unique voice helps make the song interesting at places and Randakkaa uttering is quite catchy.

2. Iyengaru Veetu...
With the recent assault of loud and fast duppanguthu numbers on my ears, I have automatically begun to like slow and melodious tracks. This one gets my recommendation based on that though the tune of the 2 paragraphs sounds vaguely familiar. Track begins with a familar Carnatic number and Hariharan's golden voice flows smoothly.

3. Kaadhal Yaanai...
A fast track that loses its appeal quite soon. The song seems to about someone called Remo and has a lot of English words. The rap-like interlude is by females for a change and is catchy. After the Tsunami mention in Kanaa Kanden, this song has the singer comparing a woman to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the sound of a bomb falling in the background! What's this obsession of lyricists with finding love in tradedy??!!

4. Kannum Kannum...
One of those typical numbers where the beats are fast and the lyrics are silly and meaningless. The lyricist has obviously been given a free hand to come up with words that don't have to mean anything as long as they rhyme!

5. Kumaari...
The song caught my fancy on the first play itself. Shankar Mahadevan sings in a captivating, slightly slurring voice with Harini joining him at the very end. The tune is mostly melodious but picks up its pace at a few places. The fast spots are the best parts of the song with the lyrics sharp and slipping very well into the fast tune. The meaningless interludes are typical Harris Jayaraj(remember Omahaseeya... and Illahi Ullaahi... ?) and add pep to the song.

6. Stranger in Black... (Theme Music)
This one's only music and it sounds a lot like the new age stuff from groups like Enigma and Enya. But since I'm a fan of new age music, I didn't mind the track. Very relaxing and soothing.

Joke Time

I've always loved good laugh but of late, most jokes I've heard have simply been variations of older jokes. So I can almost always guess the punchline, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the joke. But I heard a real good one a short while back on the radio. The punchline completely surprised me and got me laughing heartily. Hope its new for atleast some of you...

A woman in a restroom stall heard the woman in the next stall say "Hi".
Not quite sure what the etiquette was for restroom stall conversations, she responded with a timid "Hi" too.
"How are you?", asked the woman in the next stall.
"I'm fine", she replied, already a little uncomfortable.
"What are you upto?", continued her neighbor.
"Well... you know... ", she replied just to be polite, desperately wishing the other woman would stop carrying the unpleasant conversation further.
"Can I come over?", asked the woman next.
"Ofcourse not! What kind of a pervert are you?", she said, with more than a little rudeness.
She then heard the other woman say "Honey, I'll have to call you back. There's this idiot in the next stall who keeps answering all my questions"!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Tweaking Around

As readers can see, I've been tweaking the basic template provided by Blogger to reorganize and move things around on the blog. Ofcourse, behind this all is the intention of making the blog a more pleasurable read(apart from an uncontrollable urge to tweak any HTML I see!). Do feel free to let me know if any of the changes end up having the opposite effect of actually making the blog more difficult to read! I will surely address them right away. Any suggestions on what would make the blog better and even easier to read are welcome too...


[Pic Courtesy IMDb]

I did not expect to like Sideways as much as I did. It is a road movie that follows two middle-aged guys taking a trip through California's wine country. One of them, Paul Giamatti, is trying hard to recover from a divorce and is also waiting to hear from his agent on his novel getting published. The other, Thomas Hayden Church, is about to get married(the trip is a bachelor party for him) and is determined to have a last fling before settling down. While Hayden hooks up with a single mom(Sandra Oh) without revealing his impending marriage, Paul's self-esteem issues prevent him from reciprocating a waitress'(Virginia Madsen) obvious liking for him. The movie is populated with human, nicely-realized characters and realistically depicts the relationships between them.

The most surprising part of Sideways is that neither of the lead characters is particularly likeable. Paul is the better of the two but is still whiny, desperate for love, steals from his mother and has huge self-esteem issues. Thomas is quite the a**hole, flirting with anything in a dress, playing heartlessly on the vulnerability of a single mom and lying to his fiance. But we get to know them, warts included, quite well. We don't always like them but we never hate them either. The scenes where he is unhappy with Thomas' behavior but still remains silent because he feels a sense of loyalty make Paul earn our sympathy. And the scenes where we see Thomas interact with Sandra's kid and talk to Paul about his love for her point to him having a human side too. He might be immature and someone who lives for the present without thinking about the future, but he is not evil.

Initially, Sideways functions as a nice but rather ordinary character study of the two middle-aged men as they drive across wine country, wining and dining. But for me, the film was elevated by a single sequence midway through the movie. It happens between Paul and Virginia as they are forced to spend time together after Thomas and Sandra hook up. From their initial discomfort on hearing the sounds of passion from the next room, the scene is composed just perfectly. Virginia's liking for Paul and his hesitation in responding to her overtures are wonderfully picturized, more through body language and facial expressions than spoken words. And as Paul seemingly rambles on about wine and grapes to Virginia, his lines take on an inner meaning and Virginia's reactions are silent but still speak volumes. As most sequences in the movie, this one too ends on a subtly funny note that is just perfect.

The movie is advertised as a comedy but doesn't seem to be one. It is a drama that is maybe lightened by a few scenes of levity. The laughs in most cases come naturally and don't seem forced. Barring a couple of scenes(like the attack in the golf course), the laughs are also quite subtle, relying more on dialogs and reactionary shots. But I did feel the movie became a little over-the-top towards the end. Seeing Paul crawl into someone else's bedroom to retrieve his friend's wallet just doesn't seem realistic and the following scene goes for laughs in an obvious way.

I couldn't think of a more perfect ending to the film. It does not provide complete closure but at the same time, doesn't leave things so open-ended that it irritates us. It is tantalisingly real and leaves the best parts to our imagination.

Sideways is a film where two men learn about themselves on a roadtrip. When the end credits roll, it feels as though we went along on the trip and learned about them too. And its a trip I don't regret taking...