Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tamil on Google Current

If there was one forward that rivaled all those Sivaji photos and video clips in the last few days, it must've been the Google Current video that featured 'tamil'. An interesting compilation of the top results got from searching for the word 'tamil' on Google, the video includes clips and information on the LTTE, websites and and a Sri Lankan singer MIA.

The search also apparently led to the trailer of Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi, from which a few images (including one of Vadivelu sucking his thumb) made it to the video. I wonder what non-Tamils who happened to see this video would've thought of Tamil cinema after that! And does this mean this trailer is more popular than the trailer for, say, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu?!

The possible reaction of non-Indians to that trailer led me to think about this. Some time back, my wife mentioned that a Chinese colleague at work, who had never seen an Indian film, had asked her to recommend one. My suggestion to her was to recommend Muthu. After all, it is a film in our mother tongue, it was a huge box-office hit, it stars an icon and the biggest star of Tamil cinema and most importantly, it is a film that has been embraced by viewers in an Asian country. But she said that Muthu is not the kind of film she wants to recommend and said that she would rather suggest films like Lagaan or Rang De Basanti. My argument was that those films were not really reflective of Tamil cinema but it was, as always, shot down.

That made me curious. If someone who has never seen Indian films, specifically asks us to recommend a Tamil film, what film could we suggest? Should we suggest a film that imitates Hollywood(like maybe Kaakka Kaakka) to provide a gentle transition or should we suggest a film that is more truly representative of Tamil cinema as a whole?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Considering the number of gangster movies already released or in the pipeline, it looks like rowdies have all but taken over Tamil cinema. But unlike the last phase, which saw a string of movies like Dheena, Gemini, etc., the tales this time are rawer and grittier, as we saw in Pattiyal. Selvaraghavan’s Pudhuppettai carries that rawness even further as it captures life in the darker side of Chennai through the rags-to-riches-to-rags story of one of its inhabitants. It is a technically-excellent, ambitious, daring film but falls short of becoming the epic it aims to be.

We’re first introduced to ‘Kokki’ Kumar (Dhanush) when he is a student at a nearby school. Forced to run away when his father kills his mother in a fit of rage, he joins the group led by Anbu (Bala Singh) and does odd jobs for the Opposition party, with whom the group is aligned. Along the way, he befriends Krishnaveni (Sneha), a prostitute. Kumar slowly begins to rise within his group and then beyond it, but earns a number of enemies along the way.

Pudhuppettai comes off as a bold film in the characterization of its protagonist. ‘Kokki’ Kumar is probably the least sympathetic protagonist we’ve had in Tamil cinema in a long time as Selvaraghavan presents him with his warts in full view. He smokes, does drugs and sells them, visits prostitutes and kills with impunity. We watch him and are fascinated by him but we rarely feel for him. When he receives verbal whiplashes from people around him one after the other at one point, we feel no sympathy for him and simply feel he deserves the words. We are not expected to have any emotional investment in him and that is Selvaraghavan’s biggest gamble.

Nowhere is the movie’s intent to be different more evident that in the protagonist’s relationship with his women. This might well be the first Tamil film without a real romance. Dhanush’s relationships with Sneha and Sonia Agarwal are both developed along usual lines but then take turns that defy Tamil cinema conventions. On one hand we have a hero who dumps his girl because he is infatuated by another as soon as he sees her. And on the other hand we have a heroine who, with one stinging line, flushes Tamil cinema’s venerated thaali sentiment down the drain.

The first half of the film captures Dhanush’s rise to the top of one of Chennai’s rowdy gangs. There are a few nods (like his relationship to Sneha) to Naayagan here but for the most part, the movie is fresh, fast and furious. Dhanush’s character is defined in this segment as we realize that he is someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, whether it is money, power or the woman he likes. The film also draws some nice parallels between him and Sneha (there is a wonderfully composed shot that illustrates how similar they are).

Once Dhanush establishes himself as top gun in his gang, he turns his attention to politics. At this point, the movie turns into a treatise on the criminal-politician nexus. We’ve had enough movies chronicling this and the film offers nothing new as Dhanush works like a dog for his party only to be thrown aside when his usefulness runs out. But the bigger problem is that this takes our attention away from Dhanush. The movie introduces us to people who, even if they have less screen time, are worse than Dhanush. He is no longer the baddest of ‘em all. Our focus turns to the wily ways of the politicians and as a result, the film loses its focus.

But the movie reels us back in with a strong emotional hook. By introducing a character that Dhanush (and more importantly, we) finally care deeply about, the movie gets our attention and gets our pulses racing. One scene in particular, that stops our heart before making us smile in relief, is really intense (there is a similar scene with the same emotional arc in Crash too).

Selva unfolds the film as a series of flashbacks and as he did in 7/G Rainbow Colony, he uses the opening scenes to create a certain impression in our minds before breaking it in the end. But what was a shocking surprise there seems more like a cheat here. The open-ended climax is acceptable but the way it is brought in makes it seem like he led us on for the sake of a twist.

Dhanush gives a strong performance. But he shines in the quieter moments than when he tries to ‘act’. The wide-open eyes and loud voice seem artificial at places. On the other hand, see the frustration in his eyes when he gives up asking a girl for alms and moves on to the next car. Very realistic. Sneha is wasted in a role that has little scope. She has a couple of places to show the actress in her but it’s not much. Sonia is non-expressive as usual but makes a mark because of her character. She gets some of the bluntest lines in the film and relishes them. Most of the supporting roles are filled by unfamiliar faces but they do their job perfectly. Like the actors in Kaadhal, they fit their characters perfectly and look less like actors and more like real politicians and rowdies.

Visually and technically, the movie is a treat for the eyes and ears. Color tones have been chosen with care to complement the mood of the movie. A lot of camera techniques have been used to make the movie seem almost alive and full of energy. There are split screens, fade-outs, color accents(where everything is in B&W except for the bright red of the blood – a la Sin City) and even the famous tracking shot(seen first in Jaws) where the foreground zooms closer while the background moves back at the same time. Such tricks catch our eye but are not overused to make Selvaraghavan seem self-indulgent.

The song sequences are picturized with a lot of flair and are nicely choreographed. Enga Area…, with its group dance, is the pick of the lot but Vaariya… and Pul Pesum… are also fun numbers. Only one half of Neruppu Vaayinil... is heard while Oru Naalil... is completely absent. The instrumental pieces like Going Thro Emotions… provide some haunting background scores but barring the key pieces which are on the album, the rest of the background score fails to stand out.

Pudhuppettai - Well worth a visit...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sivaji - New Stills

Inspite of all the hullabaloo about security and secrecy on the Sivaji sets, pictures are coming out pretty regularly. The latest set is from the shooting of a song sequence in Bilboa, Spain (all photos have been cropped). C0nsidering the number of photos we've seen, the unit might be better off releasing some official shots. These 'unofficial' photos are obviously not planned and so don't show Rajni and Shreya in the best light.

But that said, these photos are a huge improvement over the photo we saw last week. Thalaivar looks pretty cool in all the pics. I especially liked his looks in the 1st pic(in the orange suit) and the 3rd pic(where he's posing with the white guy).

[Pics Courtesy Srijith]

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Tamil Jeopardy?

I guess Sun TV must have lost a lot more gold than they had anticipated, during the initial runs of Thanga Vettai. I caught a good section of the program yesterday and noticed a few changes since I saw it last.

For one, the questions had gotten a lot tougher. I mean, this was the program in which a college girl was asked the name of the sport that Andre Agassi played! But yesterday the questions ranged from what the birth country of Sigmund Freud was to who the first Prime Minister of Pakistan was (I got this one wrong). So while I started watching the program with the intention of seeing how silly the questions were, I ended up being involved and learning a little.

The program atleast seems to have the right role model. There was one round where the contestants were given a choice of nine categories to pick from and were then asked a question from that category. This segment definitely seems to have been inspired from Jeopardy, the hugely popular quiz program that airs in the US.

The other big change I noticed was the toning down of Ramya Krishnan's shouting. She was just as flashy as usual with her bright saree and abundant jewellery but seemed a lot less excited as she proclaimed whether the answers were right or wrong.

There were still some silly sections like the one where some images are screened with a story being narrated in the background and questions are then asked about both the images and the story. But overall, the combination of tougher questions and a less-loud Ramya made the program both more entertaining and informative than before. So its definitely on the right track.

Nice job Thanga Vettai!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sivaji - New Still

[Pic Courtesy Kaps]

As a thalaivar fan it pains me to say it but this latest photo from Sivaji is terrible. I know that the pair probably been snapped in the middle of a song sequence but Rajni still looks rather stiff and uncomfortable. His cap(I hope its not a wig!) looks ridiculous and his dress is too gaudy. Shriya fares worse and just looks cheap. When the previous bunch of photos were released, there was a lot of hullabaloo and Shankar said that he would drop that scene from the film. If this is how this song sequence looks on screen, I'm hoping it gets dropped too!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

They're Back!

Viewers of movies in other Indian languages seem to be far less harsh than their Tamil counterparts when it comes to welcoming back actresses after a break. Above are photos of three of my favorite actresses, who are making comebacks in films (though none of them are in Tamil). Simran (seen at a promotion for Rexona in Hyderabad) and Shobana (at a press meet after she announced her comeback) will be acting in Telugu films after long breaks. This weekend will also see Kajol, reentering the Hindi film industry after a long maternity leave, pairing up with Aamir Khan in Fanaa.

Shobana was underutilized even when she was younger. So it’s no surprise that Tamil cinema doesn’t have any offers for her now. But Simran pretty much ruled Tamil cinema as long as she was around and even she hasn’t been able to grab any good roles after marriage. And its not like she has let herself go and ballooned up to twice her size(like some other actresses). Ofcourse her insistence that her hubby be her costar would’ve driven away many producers but I’m not sure that’s the only reason.

The Tamil film industry has for long maintained a rather biased attitude towards actresses. Heroes remain heroes even after they become dads and maybe even granddads. But once our actresses even get married, let alone have children, they immediately stop being heroine material. The lucky ones like Kushboo stay around for a while, pairing up with lesser heroes (remember her movies with Jayaram, Ramki, etc.?) before making a smooth transition into sister and anni roles. The unlucky ones like Ambika show up in marginal roles or are simply forgotten. Its quite telling when even an actress like Nadhiya, who looked as pretty and young as before in M.Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi, could only make a comeback as mom to a young actor.

But television and its megaserials have given our actresses a new lease of life. The megaserials have now become an automatic choice for actresses who are over the hill (Kausalya, Devayani, Seetha to name a few). It’s a win-win situation for both since the megaserial gets publicity with a famous actress even if she is past her prime while the actress is able to continue acting and get paid the big bucks. Ramya Krishnan, with her Thanga Vettai, has proved that an actress doesn’t even have to be restricted to megaserials.

Since our industry is blatantly hero-centric, the heroes ask for and get away with being paired up with much younger heroines. This simply leads to a string of young, usually North Indian actresses who barely make an impression and disappear after a film or two. Once in a while, it might be a refreshing change to see an established actress reenter films with a strong role…

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code is not a great film but it is probably as good a film as can be made from the book. The book has been admirably condensed and the movie touches on all the key segments of the book. That said, it’s pretty amazing that the book, read over 2 ½ days, kept us hooked all the way while the movie, at just 2 ½ hours, seems to drag at a few places.

Since it’s pretty much a treasure hunt, the movie and its characters are always on the move and this gives it a good pace. Puzzles to decode and codes to crack are always a good way to involve the audience and this film is chockfull of them. As Hanks and Audrey move from one puzzle to another, they take us along with them. The exotic locations also offer some nice eye-candy.

There are some aspects that translate well from the written page to the screen and those are naturally the best parts of the film. Hanks’ first lecture on the interpretation of symbols and some of the chases, both on foot and in cars, fall into this category. The puzzles that have a visual dimension also gain by being shown on screen.

On the other hands, word and number puzzles are best suited for reading. We absorb them and try to solve them in our minds even as we continue reading. So there is genuine elation when the solution is revealed. That is missing in the film. Due to time constraints, the puzzles are solved almost as soon as they are presented, giving us little time to appreciate them. So these scenes feel too rushed and there little or no buildup and suspense.

Hanks seems a little confused on whether to play Langdon seriously or make him campy like the story itself. He opts for the former and sometimes looks a little too serious. Audry Tatou looks cute and Jean Reno plays his part with his usual gruffness. Ian McKellan fits his role perfectly and gets to make of the big revelations in the story.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Coming Soon - Pudhuppettai

The number of times a film’s release is announced and then postponed is beginning to look like a pretty good sign of how much hype there is about it. By that standard, Pudhuppettai, Selvaraghavan’s much-anticipated follow-up to 7/G Rainbow Colony, is right up there with films like Anniyan and Ghajini. After a number of false alarms, the film is finally making it to theaters this Friday. And it’s about time! There have been too few movies to really look forward to so far in 2006.

There’s little doubt that Pudhuppettai is being awaited mainly for the name of its director. With just two films to his credit, Selvaraghavan has created a style all his own and made himself an icon of the youth. Both films revolved around youth angst and he portrayed it with a raw, earthy style that was a nice balance of realism and style. This time he has turned his camera on Chennai’s underworld and has promised to provide a gritty, realistic look at that little known side of Chennai. Inspite of its theme, Pudhuppettai has been cleared with an UA certificate. This hopefully means that Selva hasn't resorted to exploitative or gratuitous violence.

Things have not been quite as good for his younger brother Dhanush. He was on quite a roll initially with critical praise, a hat-trick of hits and a bunch of prestigious projects. To top it all, he became Rajnikanth’s son-in-law. But his career came crashing down as his movies started flopping and the projects in the pipeline disappeared. So he is now looking towards his brother, who gave him a foothold in Kodambakkam with Kaadhal Konden, to help him regain that foothold.

The film has 2 heroines. As has been publicized a lot, Sneha plays a prostitute. Considering that she is the most natural actress working today and Selva has always created some strong female characters, we can look forward to a memorable performance from her. Also in the film is Selva’s favorite, Sonia Agarwal. She is yet to give a really good, spirited performance but Selva has so far been able to shape roles that play to her strengths. So he may be able to do that again.

Even if the movie had not been directed by Selvaraghavan, I’d still have looked forward to it after listening to Yuvan Shankar Raja’s soundtrack. The album is fresh and innovative and Yuvan’s experimentation works completely. The slick trailer, that had some nice images and a rocking background score, has whetted the appetite further.

Pattiyal has set the bar pretty high for gangster films. This weekend let’s hope that Pudhuppettai raises it further…

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Lake Tahoe - Reno

Just came back from a short weekend trip to Lake Tahoe and Reno. My wife's grandparents are here and so took them, her uncle, aunt and her aunt's mother to the two places. Did all that we had planned to do but not as much as we'd have liked to have done. But then again, considering that the ages of the people who accompanied us ranged from more than 80 years to less than 1 year, I'm quite happy that we even managed to do what we did!

We drove to Lake Tahoe on Saturday and after a short break at the resort where we were staying, we drove to Reno the same night. Spent the time at Circus Circus, letting the elders gamble and take in the sights. They proved to be much better gamblers than us since for the first time in our casino-going history, we walked out with more money(even if it was just $2.25) than we went in with. Also drove around quite a bit in downtown Reno getting a look at all the casinos but this was not intentional. It was forced by all the road closures and detours!

Today we drove around the rim of Lake Tahoe. Its quite a scenic place with the huge lake and its sparkling blue water and snow-capped peaks rising high in the background. So though it is primarily a winter destination, it still has something for the nature lover during summer also. The drive around the lake includes some nice views from a bunch of vista points as well as drives through some cute little towns.

It started raining just as started our drive back and the rain came down real hard for the next few hours. So the drive back through all those winding roads wasn't a lot of fun.

It was a while since I made a joint trip to these 2 places and this trip reminded me that the two together make a perfect weekend destination. So I've already started making plans for another trip in the next couple of months. Hopefully, we can do a little more on that trip...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Kavya's Spring Program

Tonight was Kavya's annual Spring program at her school. They had one last year too but it was just all the kids singing rhymes together. This time the whole production was more professional. They had a theme, printed program schedules and color-coordinated dresses. The theme this time was 'Bugs'. So the girls were dressed up as ladybugs and the boys as bumblebees. With the reds and yellows alternating, it was quite a pretty and colorful sight.

I've seen a few of these but it never ceases to amaze me how the teachers put these kinds of programs together. We have enough trouble getting our little girl to do what we ask her to do. But the teachers got 24 kids to sing 10 rhymes in unison, pick up and shake props on cue and pair up and dance(including a very cute final twirl). A lot of fun!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Read Or Watch?

I’ve rarely come across a film, based on a book, that I loved more than the book itself. And that is usually the case with most people I’ve talked to also. I think the reason behind this is that movies are essentially competing with our imagination. As we read a book, our mind conjures up images that go far beyond the written word. We picture in our minds what is written but since our imagination is boundless, the pictures we come up with are usually quite fantastic. But the directors are forced to show everything to us. They have to visualize everything and leave nothing to our imagination. Naturally they usually end up as a disappointment since even the best special effects don’t stand a chance against our imagination.

My favorite example of something whose effectiveness vanished when translated from book to screen is the character of Lord Voldemort in the first Harry Potter book. With her descriptions, Rowling created a being whose very presence inspired fear. We imagined the scariest, most fearsome creature in our mind as we read the book and we were never forced to actually assign a face or image to him. But when Voldemort was shown on the screen, it was a huge disappointment. That was not a fault of the special effects. Nothing they could've done would've stood a chance against what we had imagined.

I think thrillers and suspense novels hold up better when made into movies. Action sequences and stunts definitely give us a much better adrenaline rush when seen rather than read. Kiss the Girls and The Firm are two books that I think the movies did full justice to. Ofcourse the list of movies that failed to recreate the magic of the books they were adapted from is much longer. Absolute Power, Timeline and Along Came a Spider are a few that spring to mind right away for this list.

With The Da Vinci Code’s release just 2 days away, I wonder which of the two lists the movie will fall into…

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Shrek Set To Tamil Song

Some nifty editing to set Shrek to Yuvan's Kanave Kalaigiradhe... Cute. The video can be seen here (link courtesy Sandya).

Monday, May 15, 2006

Vijay's Next

After all those news reports of Tamil directors defecting to the Telugu filmworld, we hear of a Telugu director coming to Tamil(never mind that he was a Tamil actor before that!). Prabhu Deva is going to direct Vijay's next film, a remake of Mahesh Babu's recent release Pokiri. It does seem like a strange choice considering Prabhu Deva's resume as a director but the report also says that he stepped in after a few leading Tamil directors turned down Vijay.

It looks like the failure of Aadhi really shook Vijay up. The actor, who was having a dream run since Tirumalai with every film being called a hit, was finally brought back down to earth as Aadhi became a colossal flop. After resolving money issues with the distributors, he took an inordinately long time to decide on his next film. He dropped three big projects - Puli with S.J.Suryah, Murasu with Muthuvagidu(Perarasu's brother) and Thangam, with one of Dharani's assistant directors - after toying with the ideas for a while. While the first 2 were dropped due to issues between Vijay and the directors on the scripts, he dropped the last one after its Telugu original Bangaram, directed by Dharani, flopped. But it looks like he still has confidence in remakes!

Like Vijay, Prabhu Deva is coming off a flop as a director too. After hitting box-office gold with Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, a superhit, Pournami, his second outing, has turned out to be a big flop. So after two Telugu romantic films with lesser heroes, he is going to direct a Tamil, masala film with one of Tamil cinema's biggest stars. Quite a change!

Pokiri is supposed to be a freemake of the Al Pacino-Johny Depp starrer Donnie Brasco, where an undercover cop infiltrates a mafia gang. Ofcourse the basic story has been spiced up with enough masala ingredients. Though it didn't receive many glowing reviews, it is supposed to be a stylish, good entertainer and Mahesh Babu's performance has come in for a lot of praise. It does sound like an interesting project and now its upto Prabhu Deva to churn out a hit for Vijay...

Sunday, May 14, 2006


The first Mission Impossible, which is my favorite, had a complicated story and some incredible action sequences. Mission Impossible 2 watered down the story but with John Woo behind the camera, made up for it with a lot of style. This third instalment is weak in both substance and style. It is a rather average action film that has gotten the summer movie season off to a weak start.

IMF's Ethan Hunt(Tom Cruise) is now settled down and engaged to Julia(Michelle Monaghan), who thinks that her fiance works in the Transportation Department. Hunt is brought in by an old friend John to rescue another agent but that operation doesn't go too well. And now Hunt has a new mission - to capture international arms dealer Davian(Philip Seymour Hoffman).

It feels as though the MI series is running out of ideas. While some aspects, like the use of the latex mask, have become series staples, this film feels like it was cobbled together from different parts of the earlier two films. So we have a mysterious product called the Rabbit's Foot (like Chimera in MI2) that everyone wants to lay their hands on. Matters are complicated by the presence of a mole in the IMF (like MI1). And there's a sequence where Cruise has to infiltrate a high-security high-rise building to steal something (again like MI1). There's also a bit of True Lies in Cruise's double life and the trouble his wife gets into because of it.

But we go to a movie like this primarily for the action and even that is rather uneven. The action sequences range from the well-staged(like the attack on a convoy on a bridge) to the over-the-top(like Cruise's method of getting into the high-rise building). And in the tradition of recent films, some action sequences are quite chaotic with so many fast edits that we have no idea whats going on. On the other hand, sequences like Philip Seymour Hoffman's kidnap work because of a nice combination of both brain and brawn. Cruise has taken a lot of risks and sequences like the dash through some slums in Shanghai are exciting mainly because we can see that its Cruise and not a stunt double.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

4 New Reviews

Reviews for Tirupathi, Thiruttu Payale, Azagaai Irukkiraai Bayamaai Irukkiradhu and Pacha Kudhira are online @ bbreviews.

Bond... James Bond...

The trailer for the next James Bond flick, Casino Royale, is now online. It definitely points to a very different Bond film from what we've been seeing for a while.

The trailer seems to reflect what the producers said about reshaping Bond closer to the way Ian Fleming imagined him to be i.e. leaner and meaner. When it starts off in B&W with a voiceover, it almost looks like the beginning of the trailer for a noir film. The familiar and invigorating Bond theme music reminds us that this is a Bond film but there seems to be more hand-to-hand stunts. There are no smiles or one-liners or funny quips from Bond in the entire trailer and even the famous intro, with Bond shooting at the screen before a screen of red comes down, is brought in differently.

But gotta wait till November 17th to see how different the film on the whole is...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Out With The Old...

In with the older!

Following the tradition of the last few elections, the voters of TN have once again spurned the ruling party. The anti-incumbent wave has driven JJ out and brought KK back in, though the wave was not strong enough to give DMK an absolute majority on its own. So the DMK-led coalition has come back to power with KK all set to become the Chief Minister on May 13.

Vijayakanth’s MDMK has had a decent showing, considering that he is a newcomer into politics and did not align with either of the two biggies. Captain won his seat and his party got over 8% of the vote share.

Rediff has a nice piece on Karunanidhi's journey so far. There is also a point-by-point analysis of the reasons Jayalalitha lost this time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Being Cyrus

Being Cyrus is a taut, tightly-paced, no-frills film that dares to be different from the run-of-the-mill Hindi films we see today. Getting rid of all those elements that are considered indispensable in Hindi films, the film(which is entirely in English) traverses a unique path, involving us and surprising us consistently throughout its running time.

Saif Ali Khan is Cyrus, a young man who shows up at the house of Dinshaw Sethna(Naseerudin Shah), a retired sculptor, and his wife Katie(Dimple Kapadia), to work as Dinshaw's apprentice. Dinshaw's brother Farokh(Boman Irani) lives in the city with his wife and his father and when Cyrus gets a chance to visit them, he sees firsthand how the father is being illtreated. He slowly begins to realize that the family is hiding a lot of secrets.

The film begins by introducing us to a bunch of characters who may not be likeable but are definitely flamboyant and therefore, interesting. We don't spend a lot of time with them(the full movie itself clocks in at a measly 90 minutes) but their characters are so sharply defined that they make a strong impression in a short time. No movie with a set of characters like this can be uninvolving!

The film then uncovers hidden relationships between the characters as it veers off into completely unexpected territory. At the exact point where the story seems to be going nowhere, the plot rears it head in riveting fashion. The movie starts to resemble a jigzaw puzzle as each new scene reveals a little more of the plot and unconnected, disjoint scenes from before fall into place cleanly. As the movie joins its dots, the big picture becomes clear to us but not until the biggest piece of the puzzle falls into place at the end.

The film never abandons its sense of (dark) humor. Through Naseer's dazed life, Boman's tiffs with a neighbor's dog and a police inspector's broken English, the movie forces us to smile even in the middle of some macabre proceedings.

The role of Cyrus doesn't demand a lot in the histrionics department but credit is due to Saif for even accepting such a role in such an offbeat film. Acting honors are shared by Naseer and Boman but in very different roles. While Naseer, with his glazed look and loose body language, nails the role of a zoned-out man, Boman rants and raves his way through his character. Fardoonji earns our sympathy in a single scene and holds onto it in every scene he is onscreen. Simone Singh is quiet and effective while Dimple is loud and ineffective. The latter's caffeinated performance almost ruins the effect of the climactic scenes.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Azhagaai Irukkiraai Bayamaai Irukkiradhu

Considering the first efforts of recent cinematographers-turned-directors like Thankar Bachan (Azhagi), Jeeva(12B) and K.V.Anand (Kanaa Kanden) - more the first two than the third though - Vijay Milton had rather large expectations to live up to. But he sticks to safe ground, delivering a regular romance with familiar characters for the most part. But some different touches, in style in the first half and in storyline in the second half, make the film likeable and engaging on the whole.

Mano(Bharath) has come to the city from his village to get his girl Nandhini(Deepu). But the girl of his dreams is in love with Prem(Arunkumar), a cricketer and his goal is to break them up. He finds out that he has a partner-in-crime in Jothi(Mallika Kapoor), who is in love with Prem. So Mano and Jothi set out to separate Prem and Deepu so that their own one-sided romances have a chance of succeeding.

As Bharath and Mallika join hands to break up another romance, the film starts off with an accent on comedy. Their plans are pretty amateurish and it is clear that the director's intention is to make us laugh rather than give us the impression that the two are very serious about their goal. But the fact that each of them wants to separate the couple without their own sweetheart getting hurt in anyway leads to some gentle laughs.

Director Vijay Milton tries to spice up the story with some visual inventiveness in the first half. So we have cartoon characters and thought bubbles adding some variety. AIBI is a soft romance and so these don’t really fit into the tone or mood of the film. But they do offer something different to look at since the story itself is quite clichéd.

But the clichéd story eventually works to AIBI’s advantage. The predictable path the story takes manages to lull us into a sense of complacence before surprising us very effectively. The surprise is handled very well in terms of where it is placed in the film, the build-up, the method of the actual revelation, etc. and succeeds in reenergizing the film. It doesn’t stand up too well to post-mortem analysis since it raises a lot of questions and opens a number of holes but works at that moment.

On one hand we have Arun and Deepu, who are in love. And on the other hand we have Bharath and Mallika, the film’s leads, who are trying to break them up. The eventual pairs are rather clear and so, as the story proceeds, the film seems in imminent danger of its characters falling in and out of love rather quickly and without much reason. That is usually a recipe for unimpressive characters. But the movie moves the screenplay in such a way that the characters remain true to their hearts. So they earn our respect by the time the movie ends.

Bharath is energetic as always, whether he is fooling around or talking about his love. Mallika Kapoor looks a little chubby and like most newcomers, hams it up quite a bit when trying to do comedy. Arunkumar is dignified while Deepu slips into her role quite well. Yuvan Shankar Raja delivers a different soundtrack and there is no regular duet though it is a love story. Odi Vaa…, in both its fast and slow versions, is the pick of the numbers while Kaadhalai… scores points because of its funny picturization. Yuvan’s voice in Kanave Kalaigiradhe… just sounds just as bad when seeing the song sequence on screen.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Fall Of The King?

I consider director Dharani to be the king of the masala genre in Tamil films. In his movies Dhill, Dhool and Gilli, he proved decisively that he had mastered the art of dishing out racy entertainers with something for everything. All the movies were based on the same theme of an ordinary man going up against a more powerful man. But the secret lay in the packaging. They all had macho heroes, cute romances, minimal sentiments and hair-raising action and kept us rooted in our seats with a fast pace (I own all three of them).

So, as a fan, I was very sad when Dharani went over to the Telugu filmworld. He was a big one in the brigade of promising Tamil directors(which has since included Murugadoss and Selvaraghavan) who went to direct straight Telugu films. But Dharani's film with Pawan Kalyan, Bangaram, was released last week and has earned the worst reviews I've read in a long, long time. It is being called sadistic, boring, rambling and long and the general opinion prompted the producer to trim 22 minutes within day of the movie's release. Vijay, who was planning to star in the remake, has also dropped the idea after the movie's failure.

So should we be sad that yet another Tamil director has failed in another language? Or should we be happy that he's gonna pack up his stuff and return to Tamil films? Mixed emotions...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Let The Polling Begin!

[Pic Courtesy The Hindu]

Polling has begun in the elections back home even as I'm writing this. As far as I can remember, there has always been an anti-incumbent wave during elections in TamilNadu after MGR passed away. This resulted in a ping-pong match of power between the AIADMK and the DMK, as JJ or KK won with a big margin during one election, only to lose with an equally big margin in the next. But this one is supposed to be a cliffhanger with nobody being able to predict with any degree of certainty, which of the two parties would win.

This election and its campaign has certainly been a circus. Party members like Vaiko and Sarathkumar shifted loyalties suddenly and surprisingly, and vigorously attacked the same party to which they had belonged to, just a few days before! The party's platform or principles didn't matter and resentment at seat allocation was openly stated as the reason for jumping from one party to another. Personal attacks and below-the-belt punches were the order of the day. Drama and sentiments marked the campaign and the propaganda ads (Since I can see only Sun TV, I have seen only the DMK ads but I'm guessing its the same story on Jaya TV). And as the graphic above shows, the line between a 'campaign promise' and a 'bribe', which had already been blurry to begin with, disappeared completely as the two parties tried to beat the other in offering subsidised or completely free stuff to the voters.

In any race, the rhetoric usually is "May the best team win!" But for this election, I guess it would be more appropriate to say "May the lesser of the two evils win!"

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Match Point

I've seen only a few Woody Allen films and most of those were ones he made in the later part of his career. But they were enough for me to form in my mind, an image of a typical "Woody Allen movie". Match Point turns that image on its head. He stays behind the camera for this film and instead of making a comedy with himself at the center, delivers a film that begins as a drama and develops into a thriller. But he proves that he is as accomplished at this genre as he is in comedy.

Match Point is almost two different films in one(with the most amazing part being that neither of these 2 films is a typical Woody Allen film). It starts off creating some complicated relationships between an interesting set of people. Intelligent characterization and smart conversations dominate the proceedings here. We may not agree with what the characters do but with subtle but well-defined characterization, Allen makes sure that we understand why they do it.

The film could serve as an example for how a movie should be paced. It starts off at a leisurely pace while setting a Fatal Attraction-kinda triangle in place. It starts getting more rushed as it places its hero in an awkward place, giving him few options to get out cleanly. And towards the end, it turns into the kind of film that would've made even Hitchcock proud. While the movie holds our attention throughout, the pace is ratcheted up towards the end and there are a number of tense moments that get our pulses racing.

One of the most enjoyable things about the film is its unpredictability. Allen has a lot of fun toying with our expectations and things rarely play out the way we expect them to. One scene, involving a ring and a bridge railing, is almost exhilarating in the way it is picturized and is the perfect example of Allen's MO of setting our expectations a certain way and then almost gleefully breaking them.

Scarlett Johansson is gorgeous and inspite of playing a character with broad shades of gray, exudes a vulnerability that makes us sympathize with her. Emily Mortimer is at the other end of the scale. On the surface she is the perfect wife, with her husband's well-being being her topmost priority. But she is a nag and the way she nudges her husband along in the direction she wants makes her almost cunning. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers essays a rather complicated character who is confused about whether he wants a good life or a life filled with passion.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Kaavya In Trouble

When I wrote about Kaavya Viswanathan earlier, I wondered how her career would proceed after the allegations about her being a copycat surfaced. Now we know!

After admitting that she had inadvertantly copied passages from Mccafferty's books (by the way, Harvard University's student newspaper and the New York Times have found two more books Kaavya apparently "internalized" sections from!), Kaavya had said that she would be rewriting those passages in the second edition of the book. But her publisher, Little, Brown and Company, has taken her book off the market and will not be republishing the book. Worse, they also cancelled the contract on her second book (Kaavya had signed a 2-book deal initially).

Meanwhile she is still enrolled at Harvard though the university's spokesman has said rather ominously that "according to Harvard's student handbook, students who submit work that is not their own and is not properly credited will be subject to disciplinary action".

So is this the end of the young author's writing career? And maybe her life as a student at an Ivy League school too?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Super 'Super 10'

Tamil movies, with their several cliches, hero worship, exaggerated sentiments and gravity-defying stunts, are quite ripe for satire. But the opportunity has rarely been exploited, whether within or outside the field. In Kodambakkam, Satyaraj is the lone actor keeping the 'spoof genre' alive, with movies like Adithadi and Mahaanadigan containing some hilarious sequences that poked fun at other films. But lately, spoofing has come down to simply recreating sequences from other popular movies. The assumption is that seeing Satyaraj or Vivek play characters from other movies is enough to make us laugh. No further thought goes into the segments.

There used to be a TV program (Saraswathi Sabatham or something like that) on Doordarshan a long time ago. It was the first, full-length spoof of Tamil cinema I remember seeing. It had its own, suitably ridiculous storyline and rather than spoofing specific movies, it spoofed the Tamil cinema scene in general. So it had scenes like the hero growing an impossibly long beard(to signify kaadhal tholvi) in the few minutes it took to read a letter from his lover and bad guys willingly inserting their heads into hanging tires and other props during fight sequences. It was a lot of fun and laughs were easy to come by. I remember it ending in a rather hurried fashion though I do not remember why.

While not as clever or original as that program, Sun TV’s Super-10 seems like a legitimate successor. The program spoofs a different movie each week while presenting the week's top 10 songs. While the spoof itself is more of a filler for the program’s real purpose, listing the songs, I’ve been watching the program for the spoof rather than the songs (kinda like reading Playboy for the articles?!). The program understands the concept of spoofing in that it borrows the outline of a story from a popular movie but instead of restaging the same story, it modifies it in outrageous ways. So it is both clever and funny.

For instance, in their take on Sethu last week, ‘Sethu’ kidnaps ‘Abitha’ and takes her to a dilapidated house, but then screams at her for spending all his money on food! A crying ‘Abitha’ buries her head between her knees sorrowfully but when ‘Sethu’ lifts her head, she is actually eating an apple! She then hits ‘Sethu’ on the head with the apple, which is how he ends up in a mental institution!

And in the Padaiyappa spoof, ‘Sivaji’ hugs the pillar at his house and refuses to let go even as ‘Rajni’ pulls him back. But when the camera pulls back, we see that ‘Sivaji’ is actually holding on to a maid’s hands on the other side. And in the famous scene where ‘Rajni’ visits ‘Ramya Krishnan’, ‘Rajni’ throws his towel up to pull down the swing, only to have pieces of cement and paint rain down on him from the ceiling!

Indian, Mella Thirandhadhu Kadhavu and Gauravam were some other movies spoofed on the program in recent weeks. Hilarious stuff! Now, if the guys behind Super-10 script a movie starring Satyaraj, that might be something to look forward to…

Monday, May 01, 2006

Gandhi aka Ghajini?

[Pic Courtesy Maverick]

My first thought(and apparently, Maverick's too) on looking at this poster was that it was for the Hindi remake of Ghajini. But I don't think Murugadoss' Hindi version of Ghajini is anywhere near having a poster or a photoshoot. And the face on the poster doesn't look like Aamir Khan's either (maybe Sunny Deol)? But the face writings do remind us of Ghajini. So is this another Memento 'freemake' thats going to hit the screens before Aamir's film does?