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?


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

some parts of that video were hilarious :)) wats 'tamilot' btw? 'tamil + lot' for lot of tamil??

re movies to recommend - i wud kep the tastes of the person in mind cuz i'd be upset if they were to pass some -v remark

i've recommended 'dil chahta hai' a few times for ppl who wanted to see a bollywood 'musical'(going by their definition, almost every indian movie is one!)

for tamil, if i were asked, i'd probably choose one of maniratnam's movies like roja, idayathey thirudadhey, thiruda thirudi, mouna ragam etc

or minnale :p

At 12:40 AM, Blogger srijithunni said...

I would recommend, Satya, Thevar Magan, Nayakan.. Yeah, me a kamal fan..:-)

Also, karagaatakaaran.. the typical ramarajan movie which was a great hit. and what about parasakthi or thiruvilayaadal.

Even maniratnam movies are good, but most of them are Indian in context, rather than tamil.. of course we can recommend Kandukondein Kandukondein and Alaipayuthey.

Lots of movie, Balaji, but i`m stumped how you could have this doubt.

At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my non-tamil-white boyfriend asked to watch a tamil movie, I recommended that we watch Kannathil Muthamittal together, which he thoroughly enjoyed. However, when a bunch our tamil friends went to the theatre to watch Ghajini and dragged him along, it led to some truly cringeworthy moments! - probably because the movie was such a rip off of Memento, not to mention Nyantara in those awful shorts and a truly hideous song sequence! I would have no problems recommending Maniratnam's movies, apart from his films, I would really have to pick and choose. I think Hindi movies may be easier to recommend. I know of quite a few non-indian people who have enjoyed movies like Lagaan, Rang de Basanti, Fanaa, Paheli etc.

At 2:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i will recommend - nayagan, mouna ragam. Or what abt even bama vijayam - it is a good comedy, it shows indian/tamilian living style, tamilian's liking towards cinema (balaji?), kootu kudumbam...

Muthu according to me is a bad suggestion.

At 6:39 AM, Blogger A Dreamer... said...

Hi Balaji,
I have been visiting your blog for some time now without leaving any comments. This was a good question. A couple of years back, me and a few of my Tamil friends screened MMKR for a large group of American school friends. We provided adequate translation as English subtitles were not available. I don't think they enjoyed the movie very much.
More recently I suggested Mr and Mrs Iyer to another close American friend who knows a bit about India and her culture from all the 'lecturing'I have given her. She enjoyed the movie very much. I guess, it makes things more easier when they have heard a little about our culture and atleast some of the dialogues are in English.
You have an awesome blog :)

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Maverick said...

Sure there are not many movies these days that really represent the life and times of rural India. Thevar Magan, Mahanadhi would do well for that genre.

Song and dance sequences that we are famous for - Kandukondein, Karagaatakaaran, Alaipaayudhey and countless more.

At 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suggest 'Dum dum Dum' because its an awesome movie with a neat story, good cinematography, music, humor and enjoyable romance.

At 8:40 AM, Blogger VThinkTank said...


Your blog is great, I have been a regular visitor.

I would suggest PANCHATHANTHRAM.

What does everyone think of that.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Orange Fronkey said...

I was a lil offended with the google video thing, but I'm over it...

Anyways... At my work, we got alotta Ethiopian students... and they love Hindi movies.. I have only 2 hindi movie in my 300+ collection of dvd's and videos so I gave him tamil movies instead...

The first one I have hime was Kaadhal... and he immediately fell in love with it, after that he loved the movies I let him borrow but nothing came close to kaathal.. He said all the movies were beautiful.

I kinda saw what kinda stories he seemed to like so I got movies along that line. like Parthiban kanavu, ehy nee romba azhaga iruka, kaathal kondaen, kutti, kannathil muthamittal etc... etc... I think he borrowed over 20 movies and I havent heard any bad stuff about it. I'm not embarrassed to give tamil movies out to people to watch...

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Orange Fronkey said...

Oops... I didn't answer the q did I?

Anyways.. I'd recommend "Azhagiye Theeye" =P. That movie just rocks.

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A couple of years back, me and a few of my Tamil friends screened MMKR for a large group of American school friends. We provided adequate translation as English subtitles were not available. I don't think they enjoyed the movie very much."

Not surprising. MMKR might not be the best choice. Even the best translators and sub-texts in the world cannot convey the native humour and the inherent tone of the movie, which can only be appreciated by the Tamill audience to foreigners. Leave alone Americans, very few North of the Vindhyas could have appreciated it with sub-texts. Crazy Mohan's dialogues have to be enjoyed with their native Palghat accent in Tamil. Would Munnabhai MBBS be as funny to a Tamil guy who goes by captions? Think about it.


The bigger issue behind this whole discussion is one that I have raised several times earlier to some of the desi reviewers who review Hollywood films with an authoritative tone that suggests they have experienced the full impact of the movie. I am always suspicious and skeptical of those claims. Certain films work well. But there are a number of films(especially old ones) that if you watched without having read any intro about the movie or its actors, you would have probably not have had the same impact. Most of the time desis watch a hOllywood flick knowing in advance that it was a criticially acclaimed film or that great actors are in it and so on and then they go about finding what was great about the film and what did they like about it and so on. The true impact of the film would never be felt because of the cultural differences and the fact that you can follow the language,culture.emotions only so much despite the fact that you may be fluent in English or havev the best captions/subtexts in the world. This might not apply to movies like say Jurassic Park but it applies more to movies like Taxi Driver or Walk the line etc.The ability to gauge a good or bad film in Hollywood is limited as far as a desi reviewer is concerned, even if he is a movie buff. As far as Tamil films are concerned we have a better feel for the subject and can gauge on our own as to whether the product is worthy or not.

The best Tamil transliteration in the world couldnt convey the full impact of a movie like Mudhal mariyaadhai or Devar Magan, that carries with it the flavor of the Tamil soil. To a foreigner most of the scenes would look stupid, the dialogues would seem absurd despite the explanation offered by you. The entire mindset is different due to the cultural differences.


If I wanted to gradually introduce someone to desi films, I'll probably start off with a crossover film(Bend it like Beckham, Mitr, Monsoon wedding etc.) and then gradually work my way towards Mani Rathnam films and then towards probably a Selvaraghavan film. Because these are directors who choose topics that are relevant to current Tamil culture/life, but present them with an aesthetic sensibility thats Western, which might be easier for a foreigner to grasp.

Whereas if you show a movie like AlaigaL oivadhillai or Sindhu Bhairavi to them, you would probably end up getting more laughs out of them than from a Jim Carrey or Mike Myers film :-)

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would recommend Salangai Oli. Song and dance, especially classical, are an intergral part of our culture and that movie definately showcases both these aspects well. I think Kamal's character and his superb acting will win anyone over.

When I was 10, Moondram Pirai was shown on tv and despite all the bad subtitles (I'm from Singapore), many of my fellow 10 or 9 year old non-indian friends were absolutely taken back by that movie. I remember one of the girls saying that she cried during the train scene. If a tamil movie is able to move a chinese kid that far, it definately would be worth a watch for non indians i guess.


At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

where is my "mariyaadhaikku ooriya nannban, madhipukku ooriya edhiri" bhuvan to write abt int'l class cinema?!

neways, I think Muthu (in spite of its following in Japan and what not) is a terrible choice. It's a regressive piece of crap that had a lone bright spot- that brief flashback with Rajni Sr.

Roger Ebert once wrote about Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy that though it was set in India, its themes n emotions were universal.

If someone were to ask me, I would recommend such movies. Not necessarily artsy movies but features that are classy, subtle, reflective of our society's highs and lows, authentic in their representation of the character's lifestyles (not a Kadhir movie where a guy from a village will wear a GAP t-shirt the first day of college!), yet with simple emotions that can be comprehended by all.

My recommendations would be:

Aboorva Raagangall

Udhiri Pookkall

Mouna Raagam


Vedham Pudhidhu (I would be really curious to see how a non-Tamilian, with the aid of good sub-titles, reacts to this one. If there was a movie that would open an alien's eyes to our narrow-mindedness when it comes to religion and superstition, its this one)


Kaaka Kaaka (from your list) - a sophisticated romance, top-notch production values and a high-octane action movie. verenna verenna vendum, oru murai paarthaal podhum, jothika-vai endhan manadhinil naan vaippeney vaippeney...!

At 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to add to that...

Bharathiraja, I think was the one among the doyens of Tamil Cinema who had a 'grammar' that was all his own...and, I think Vedham Pudhidhu has the master filmmaker at his, that would be my top reco.

didnt recommend my all-time fav. Nayagan coz I dont want this Godfather backlash from 'educated' commentors like Mr. B!

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would recommend "Anbe Sivam" (not a flawless film, but one that might sit really well with a foreign audience!). It's not a very traditional Indian film, but has its share of duet, dappanguthu in its own flavor. The acting is almost flawless and that's what should represent Tamil cinema very well. "Kannaththil Muththamittaal" might be another great suggestion. There's no running around trees and singing duets in that film and is surely not a film that defies a lot of logic during its running time. It's stark and hard hitting when it needs to be and warm and sensitive when it has to be. The other movie "Raam." The film doesn't dilly-dally very much; no unnecessary song and dance routine, no duets, no unnecessary fights, an absolutely brilliant comic act by Kanjaa Karuppu (if appropriately subtitled!), and overall, a very accurate representation of what Tamilians are like, culturally and otherwise.

These three films are not representative of the typical Tamil cinema commercial fare, but then again, it depends on what kind of impression you want to leave on the foreign audience (especially if they are friends or colleagues whose opinion matters to you very much! :-)

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Filbert said...

We will have to go with one of the 2 extremes. Either go with Shankar/ Mani rathnam type of movies with all their granduer or with Mahendran/ Balu Mahendra kind of movies (like Udhiri Pookkal, Mullum Malarum, Moondraam Pirai, Kaadhal) which realistically portray what we stand for. One thing I have noticed with many of non-Indian folks that I have talked to is the fact that they have all enjoyed watching the movie 'Monsoon Wedding'. May be that tells something. But I cant think of any Tamil movie which can be said as an equivalent of that one.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

prasanna, i guess that would depend on what we mean by tamil style/culture. i'm sure that there r people who feel that balachander, etc. spoiled tamil culture and only even older films respected tamil culture. me, i just accept that like everything else, tamil style itself has changed. and the fact that many of these movies r hits proves that viewer's tastes have changed too :)

deepa, i assumed 'tamilot' was a take-off on camelot.
and i think mani's movies r a natural choice for non-indian viewers. they present reasonably indian/tamil stories wrapped in classy, stylish movies :)

srijith, wasnt really stumped. i was more curious about what people thot.

anon, i think it comes down to that hard-to-define term 'class'. the hindi movies u have mentioned r all classy affairs that didnt resort to crude comedy, vulgarity or cheap special effects. barring mani's movies, there r so few tamil movies of late that don't resort to one of those things.

anon, i recommended 'muthu' only because the colleague was a chinese guy and muthu, for whatever reason, was loved by the japanese. wouldn't have recommended it if he were american :)

nish, thanx for dropping in. some very interesting choices there. had a few that i hadnt thot of (like kuruthippunal) but would make good choices. ur reasoning is quite sound too for ur recommendations.

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Syam said...

what ever it is but the way the guy pronounced imasai arasan 23 m pulicasi" was real fun...thanks for bringing the link to this video....

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Raju said...

kovichukkakoodathu.. Rajini's movies are strictly No on my recommendation.. I get embarassed to answer qns. on some silly scenes found abundant in Rajini's movies.. esp. movies like Muthu (the scene where a horse does something Ramanarayanan movie style) and Rajathiraja.. In fact, I recommended 'Kaakha' to a Bengali couple and they liked it.. And, when we think of inviting some foreigners to our home, we think of putting up some Shahrukh movie (like DDLJ) to show them..

Read the first paragraph of this rediff review of 'Aparichit'.. I smiled when I read it.. I know Raja Sen tends to act smart in most of his articles/reviews.. but I found the revlevance of first para during my interactions with many northies..

So, for Tamil, I would recommend a Shankar movie like ''Indian', Anniyan', or 'Mudhalvan'.

At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would suggest something like Poove Unakkaga, Jeans, Citizen, Anniyan, Thullladha Manamum Thullum.

Definitely something reflecting our culture & values, but not a masala film.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

sowmya, glad u finally decided to speak up :) i too feel that comedies would fare worst when shown to people not familiar with the language. sentiments r usually universal while comedy is so ingrained in the language, tone, etc. that a lot is lost in translation :) so am not surprised they didn't take to MMKR too well...

vthinktank, thanx. i think panchatantram has the same problem since its a comedy. so many of the jokes would be lost in translation :)

merino, a li'l surprised they liked 'kaadhal'. it is so unique to Tamil and so realistic that i'm surprised non-tamils could connect to it!

vijay, very nicely put. ur phrase "present them with an aesthetic sensibility thats Western" is i think key to determine whether they'll like a film or not.

and i completely agree with u on the way we watch acknowledged classics. for most of those movies, we know beforehand what's good about the movie. so we end up seeing and appreciating those things which might otherwise have never caught our eye.

At 1:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Tough question. Like somebody else mentioned, I think a lot depends on the person. I'd probably recommend something like Karuthamma. Represents rural Tamil Nadu, highlights a very real issue, and has the song & dance routine as well. Serious movie buffs will love it. If the person isn't a movie buff, he/she is probably not into watching movies with sub-titles anyway! :)

My sister had a Danish friend, who is a movie buff and was curious about Indian movies. Somehow, my sister had spoken to him about Kamal, and wanted to show some of Kamal's movies. I recommended Pesum Padam, Aboorva Sahotharargal, Mahanadhi, and Nayagan. Unfortunately, I couldn't get DVDs for any on time, so can't tell you that he loved them :)

At 1:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops ... My sister "has" a Danish friend, not "had".

At 1:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

vijay, I agree with you. Sometimes, I hate movies that are considered to be classics e.g. English Patient. But take "Citizen Kane" for example. A while back, I saw it for the 2nd time on DVD. One of the DVD extras was a back story, which explained the conflict between Orson Welles and the real life character CK is based on. I was able to appreciate the movie a bit more. But the first time I watched it, I was a little scared to dislike it.

At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best film I would recommend is the silent movie "Pesum Padam" (aka "Pushpak" in Hindi - thought not sure why it needed different titles when its a silent movie). Good way to start. Then you can ease into "Nala Damayanti".

At 2:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, just passing by and read your blog...the first movie I showed my non-tamil friend was Vetri Vizha...a bit silly, but there are sub-titled copies, and the humor comes through. Kamal hassan is agood choice regardless or the acting.


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