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.


At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi balaji...prasanna here...i beleive wat u said is perfectly true...even though kamal might be making more remakes , no other actor gives classic movies like he take another recent example , guess even "Anbe Sivam" was a flick....but not sure of the name of the movie.

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ANBE SIVAM ripped off PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (1987; John Hughes).

Re: DAVID GALE being the original to VIRUMAANDI. I don't agree with that point, cause the Hollywood film was released in 2003, six months or so before VIRUMAANDI I'd guess. Thus both films were shooting at the same time. I don't think Kamal was copying THAT particular movie. The whole narrative framwork of VIRUMAANDI isn't especially original, though, if you consider that Robert Altman made fun of such a Hollywood-typical plot in his film THE PLAYER (1992).

I don't care, if Tamil films remake Hollywood films, since there are a lot more examples... like that Prabhu movie MY DEAR MARTHANDA being a bad ripoff of the Eddie-Murphy-hit comedy COMING TO AMERICA (1988). If a flick is good, it's good. Inspirations will always be there, some overt and some not so overt.

At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey bj, interesting stuff but I always thought that kamal’s inspiration for ‘virumandi’ was nagesh kukunoor 2003 film ‘3 Deewarein’ starring naseer. Though I have not seen ‘Life of David Gale’ all the stuff you mention abt ‘Life of David Gale’ - “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” - is the exact same as ‘3 Deewarein’ just change kate w/ juhi and spacy w/ naseer. But ‘3 Deewarein’ also has - “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” - which makes it even more like ‘virumaandi’.
‘3 Deewarein’ was nominated and won quite a few awards that year and it a well known film. but ‘Life of David Gale’ premiered in Feb ’03 while ‘3 Deewarein’ premiered in June ’03, and ‘virumaandi’ premiered in jan ’04 - so they are all really close together so I dunno. I will have to watch ‘David Gale’ now…

though I agree w/ you the similarities between ‘rashomon’ and ‘virumaandi’ end with the narrative... and even then it is somewhat different

and I also really enjoyed ‘virumaandi’, regardless of the ‘inspirations’

though unfortunately not all kamal remakes turn out to so well…. I still remember how horrible ‘kurudipunal’ was… esp compared to the original masterpiece, which coincidently was another naseer film


At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, i'm the kamal fan who once told his friends with a poker-face that Marlon Brando, even in his wildest dreams, couldnt play Velu Nayakar the way my Idol, my comments for this post will be totally worthless!
but jokes apart, I defn do think that Kamal, the writer/director, is nowhere close to Kamal the actor when it comes to originality...but this interpretations of the roles have rarely, if ever, failed to have me Anbe Sivam and complain about its similarities with P,T and Auto?? gimme a frickin' break!

At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I consider PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES to be a great film that resonates much more than the pretentious and wildly uneven piece of hokum that was ANBE SIVAM (the whole communist angle was just ridiculous and the whole film was never more than simplistic). Just check out Roger Ebert's review of P,T & A under his "Great Movies" section (I seldom agree with him, but here I do passionately, since the film is both hilarious AND touching - ANBE SIVAM was forced and boring in compraison).

Yeah, Kamal is an awesome actor, but he's a poor judge of material. His films are seldom complete successes, unless a great director is at the helm (NAYAGAN) or the plot is riveting (THEVAR MAGAN), or the film is a straight comedy: SINGARA VELAN, SATHI LEELAVATHI.

I haften often claimed, that Kamal may be a better actor than Rajinikanth, due to the impressive range, which the latter lacks, but Rajini plays it, more often than, straight with his films and has more winners on his list: ANNAMALAI, MUTHU, NALLAVANUKKU NALLAVAN, MANNAN etc. All this films are well-rounded and satisfying in themselves, whereas Kamal is often waaaay too ambitious for his own good.

You always sense the potential that's there, but it has a hard time coming to the surface, cause Kamal never actually gets the tone completely right and fucks it up with crap CGI or other fanciful stuff which is jarring. See: VIRUMANDI, INDIAN and the wildly overpraised nonsense of HEY RAM.

Like everyone else in the Tamil film world, he has to get more disciplined and consistent in his filmmaking. I know, that it's hard to make the two-and-a-half-hour movie Indian audiences always expect, but you can do it without losing your audience halfway through. Just look at CHINNA THAMBI, ALAI PAYUTHEY, BOMBAY or even the more recent KAADHAL, which showed that you can be artistic without losing your mainstream audience.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bj, nallaa kozhandhaigala killi uttutu thottilayum aataame poyte!

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Munimma said...

Kamal has always been inspired by other actors. Right from Shivaji to Peter Sellers to Charlie Chaplin to Marlon Brando. But that is what makes him good. He is always looking for inspiration from others. Like a sponge, he absorbs from everything and everyone. He is constantly changing according to whoever influences him at that point of time. Even his appearances seems to be influenced by whichever lady he is with.
All actors are copycats, in a manner of speaking. So why do we crib about this one guy? Because he acts arrogant about it :-) Or that is how it seems to others. He is a scorpio after all, what else would one expect.
But he has never openly said he copies movies, he copies actors he says, but I don't recollect him acknowledging story sources. although it is quite apparent to most of us.
BTW, MichaelMMK's climax is kinda like Goldrush (Chaplin).
So, the question now is, has he done any 'original' movies? :-)

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, the question now is, has he done any 'original' movies? :-)

i'm sure sakalakala vallavan was original !! no seriously...I think "Mahanadhi" was a fine piece of cinema (Kamal wrote the story, screenplay and dialogues) that was strikingly least, as far as I know...I thought Guna was too but someone told me that the central theme was taken from some Antonio Banderas movie (if my memory serves me right).

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh? Is GUNA supposed to be a remake of Pedro Almodovar's spanish film ATAME! aka TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN!?!?! Oh boy, that one had lots of sex in it. I bet GUNA has none of that. :-)

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMO, that is one too many "inspiration". Damn!! Kamal, what happened?! But you've got to hand it to the guy for banking on his abilities to give the audience a good time regardless of where he got his "inspiration" from.

At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

asokan, nope Guna doesnt have any sex...though the film is definitely adult material (in terms of themes) - sacrilege that you havent seen it (atleast thaz the impression I got from ur post)

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

asokan/zero, not sure if i agree with the timeline difference eliminating David Gale as Kamal's inspiration for Virumaandi. DG was released in Feb 03, almost a yr before V. The capital punishment bits stood out awkwardly in V, which, as u say, points to Kamal adding them as an afterthot(after seeing DG).

vic, i've seen and admired '3 deewarein' but never made the connection betn it and virumaandi till u brought it up. 3D's lack of focus on capital punishment was probably the reason. DG worked as a thriller but i felt it was kinda perverted. left me with a bad taste in my mouth. And the climax, negated all that went on before it. IMO, the movie ended up showing that the law can be manipulated rather than being a case against capital punishment.

asokan, i definitely prefer kamal's ambitiousness to the lack of trying from other directors who stick to a safe route. i definitely enjoyed the 3 kamal movies u mention. the 1 movie where "he didnt get the tone completely right and f***ed it up with crap CGI or other fanciful stuff which is jarring" was aalavandhaan.

munimma, exactly! he seems arrogant. and he does say he copied movies but only when the sources r well-known(like vasoolraja, kurudhippunal, etc.) as for completely original, Mumbai Xpress was original wasnt it?

ram, read somwhere that 'mahanadhi'(the part where he is in jail) resembled an english movie. not sure where i read it or what movie though!

gopi, my thots exactly. i really don't care whether a film is a remake or not as long as the end result is enjoyable. my only complaint is that he should be more open about his sources.

btw, has anyone seen 'the transporter'? vijay fighting in the tar with cycle pedals on his feet in 'gilli' was a straight lift from a fight sequence in that film.

At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When 'Thenali' stills were released with a mouse displayed prominently, rumors were floating that the movie was based on 'Mouse Hunt'.

In an interview, KS Ravikumar (the directory) was asked about this, and he replied that the movie had no resemblance to 'M H'. Of course, he conveniently omitted/forgot to mention that it was actually based on 'What about Bob?'. Natural response, you'd think :)

At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji, I think you are right on. He tries to pass himself off an 'arivu jeevi' by not acknowledging the source. The sad part is, inspite of all his flaws, he really is pretty darned good. So he should just stop the posturing.

I think there is one other reason why others don't get picked on. They do such a bad job with 'interesting' remakes (i.e. any movie with no love triangle, panchayat scenes, father-son dual role etc), there is no credit to grab :)

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Ram C said...

Whether it is original story or inspired story, whether he accepts the fact or not, the final product is what viewers like me expect....

If he gives movies like 'aalavandhan' after spending so much time on exploring the stories (this was inspired from his novel of two decades back), then people will move away from him.

so, whatever it is, let us expect that he delivers a quality one.. which other are not able to deliver (even if they copy very well)

it seems, he is touching up the story presntd by Gautham for 'VV'..hope they come out with better result

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Ram C said...

Whether it is original story or inspired story, whether he accepts the fact or not, the final product is what viewers like me expect....

If he gives movies like 'aalavandhan' after spending so much time on exploring the stories (this was inspired from his novel of two decades back), then people will move away from him.

so, whatever it is, let us expect that he delivers a quality one.. which other are not able to deliver (even if they copy very well)

it seems, he is touching up the story presntd by Gautham for 'VV'..hope they come out with better result

At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ram, I saw GUNA, but that was like 12 years before and I don't remember most of its details...

As for CGI fucking up Kamal films: just look at INDIAN, a pretty ambitious, but nevertheless disappointing film in parts, where you had a completely unbelievable action scene in which Kamal lay beneath a Formula One racing car!!! That's physically impossible! Or look at the opening of VIRUMANDI, where his CGI-assisted bull fight was equally ridiculous. Both things took me out of the film and that shouldn't happen.

By comparison, the bad CGI in MUTHU (jumping over the cliff) only added to the fun of the film.

If you wanna make serious movies, Kamal, stop playing around with silly effects!!!

At 11:22 PM, Blogger Prabha said...

Nice blog!!
Regarding ur post..these things keep happening..Kamal and rest of the actors/directors are "inspired" by other movies..
its also true that sometimes we do lack that creativity..its not even that..just a unwillingness to take risks I guess..well!as long as there are good movies to watch its fine :)

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

zero, just to make sure that i wasnt totally wrong, i checked the titles of Mahanadhi (i have the cassette):
the dialogues were written by rangarajan AND kamal hassan.
no selective amnesia (!) i just remembered Kamal 'scripting' the movie...thats all:)

At 1:26 AM, Blogger Suguna said...

Hi Bala , completely agree with you. But he is such a versatile peronality that people in the industry are so jealous that they want to comment on about everything.

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one last thing on "Mahanadhi"--

there is one line which I'm sure came from the pen of K. Hassan:

"Kanakadhara Sthotram Sonna Kooraiya Pichindu Panam Kottum!"

At 11:35 AM, Blogger jack said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:37 AM, Blogger jack said...

Hey ram is not a complete lift off from barrabas.They are two different movies in the presentation.But the theme is the same.It was an inspiration for sure.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nala Damayanthi -> Green Card

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Raju said...

I am a new kid on the block.. pl. bookmark my new blogspot
I am a regular visitor to Balaji's site and like what he writes. But, I also have to answer your this post. Virumandi was in the making for a real long time.. under the name Sandiyar.. 3 Deewarein was released on first week of august, 2003. (
Kamal is one who likes to give interviews.. he does it frequently.. and he reveals the inspirations, if any, during some interview or the other.. everyone knew that Avvai Shanmughi was going to be indianized Mrs. Doubtfire.. Even Magalir Mattum, Kamal said, was inspiration from a Hollywood movie.. I remember that well.. not all can see/listen to all of Kamal's interviews.. so it is not his mistake and responsibility to answer everyone.
Kamal, we all know, is from Paramakudi, a Thevar-dominated area.. He has told that he, and R.C.Shakthi, a Thevar, used to spend lot of time in each other's house.. so, the impact of the other community can be seen their movies.. RC Shakthi's Sirai is a classic take on Brahmins... and Kamal likes to take on Thevars.. I understand that most of the people are around Chennai.. and also engineers.. you all would be hard-working from childhood.. being born and brought up in urban societ of Madras.. But, life in villages is different: the "Pangali" fight among Thevar community can sometime be really cruel.. Kamal has portrayed that wonederfully in Thevar Magan and to some extent, in Virumandi. So, comparing Thevar Magan to Godfather is unacceptable. True.. Kamal has always heaped praise on Marlon Brando, and said that his Nayakan act has been influenced by him.. but I dont think so about Thevar Magan. By now, you would have realized that I am a big time Kamal fan.. but that doesnt mean I would defend him for all he does. May be you can see some of it in my blogs in the future.. Hope I didnt hurt anyone..

At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

looks like we have more die-hard K. Hassan fans :) gr8888 start, padmanaban sir...

poatri paadadi ponney...hassan kaaladi manney!

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

gp, romba emotional aagitenga pola iruke. sure, everyone knew 'avvai shanmughi' to be an indianized 'mrs.doubtfire'. but i clearly remember kamal telling in some interview that it was not a copy and that he had the idea even before 'mrs.doubtfire'. its statements like that which irk me.
i never thot 'thevar magan' was a take-off on 'godfather'.

though i am a rajni fan, i am definitely not anti-kamal. the post was just my feelings on this one characteristic of him(not revealing his inspirations).

blogs r meant for interesting debates and conflicting viewpoints. i'm pretty sure u won't be hurting any1 by expressing your own views.

At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

aiyyo, gp should look at other posts and the related comments for people who dont give a tihs about "hurting" others!!!
yep, all's fair in love and (star)war!

At 8:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji and Ram,
Thanks for your replies. I didnt get emotional or things.. And I added the last sentence, so that my post doesnt get censored.. :-) (I have seen a few 'comment deleted'.. didnt want mine to be under them)..
I dont know why.. the last few months have been defending months for me... be it Kamal, Sachin Tendulkar, and AR Rehman. All are proven legends but people can pick something on them..
And, Kamal has had some conflicts with his late father.. you can see that reflected in his movies.. starting from Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu, Unnal mudiyum Thambi, even in Thevar magan, Mahanadhi and in Indian (the other way now), there is a old protagonist, someone Kamal would argue with.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Ganesh said...

I wrote about this in my tamil blog some 3mnths back on the topic 'Asal and Nagal' it didn't sit well with Kamal Fans
check this out

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I read ur revu on Mahanadhi and you have mentioned there abt R K Rangarajan(?)."

zero, were you referring to my review or Balaji's? in case u were referring to mine...yeah, i just re-checked my review and saw that i'd mentioned his name...i wrote this review a couple of years ago after I bought the guess all the info was fresh on my mind then...

gp, reg. Kamal's conflicts with his screen fathers, I think that comes more from the KB School (Unaal Mudiyum Thambi, Varumaiyin Niram Sivapu and even Ek Duje Ke Liye) -- KB loved revisiting themes and Kamal always played a bolshy youngster...but you maybe rite about the subtext of the movies...

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

gp, just to clarify, the deleted comments were removed by the authors and not by me. I think some comments get duplicated for some reason and the authors just remove the duplicates. I definitely haven't censored anybody's views and don't plan to. and very interesting observation regarding the father-son conflict. nice :)

ganesh, good post. looks like almost all tamil cinema blogs have touched upon this topic in the recent past!!

ram, i'm guessing he's referring to your review since i'm pretty sure i don't mention RKR in mine.

At 3:23 AM, Blogger Sujay said...

we are not detectives but movie watchers.. a movie well done (inspiration or not) is a treat to watch , paisa vasool for me, am happy, producers happy, the actor is happy.. whats the issue?

At 3:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice blog. I love all the free adult movie preview. I will definately be back again... and again and again.

At 12:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read this blog recently.
I didn't know about the David Gale involvement in Virumaandi.
The POV shots and narration is similar to city of god. Not exactly. But you can see the 'inspiration' is there.
Kamal could be a best director, if he does not act in his own movie. But he never realises that or never dared enough to try a directorial effort. I don't know why he unnecessarily hides behind some bogus director's name and does direction. This is stupid and not really a characterisitic of an artiste. Show whatever you are. Do whatever you can. Never care about the results and criticisms. He is aged more than 50. Why the hell he still chooses to be a hero of age 30. Why not choose a different story with a character suitable for his own age? This attittude is not trend setting. Just he wants to keep the 'star' value as that of Rajini. Inspite of all his contributions to better tamil cinema, what I can say about him is that he was never upto what everybody expected him to become.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I wonder why there is heated debate on his inspired movies when practically speaking nothing under the sun these days can be called creative and original. Hollywood gets inspired as well from world cinema however due to their high production costs bury them under the sand completely giving an impression of original work. The plot of a story can only go so far - Man in love with a woman, woman in love with another man, man saves her from villian and they marry each other towards the end after a bit of struggle - there could be a godzillion movies times two taken with such a theme. Or lets say a jail flick - it is within the realms of 4 walls of a prison, what new concepts can be brought in? Somebody compared another jail flick with no plot similarity to Mahanadhi to be an inspired idea! What a cruel world this is turning out to be. Then going by that logic since Mahanadhi bears a jail theme, The Shawshank Redemption is an inspiration from Mahanadhi. Or since Taken has a similar plot to Mahanadhi, clearly they have ripped off Mahanadhi. Guys it is about time you guys realize that cinema is not like a Phd thesis that gets approved as original. People who have money produce the movie with alterations in screenplay from another source. If it is intellectual theft then let there be a court case filed to prove the same. The audience must start learning to watch a movie for its diversity in implementing non-typecast ideas rather than digging a needle out from a hey stack and say hey this movie is copied/inspired by movie X,Y,Z. Pathetic guys. Kamal has been brilliant nonetheless in whatever he has come up with and that opinion of mine will never change. Rajinikanth needs to atleast look at some sort of versatility and stop typecasting his stupid style and rags to riches concept which is puke inducing.

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