Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Week Off

Going on a vacation tomorrow evening. Will be back on here next week (I'm guessing Wednesday or Thursday).


Monday, July 24, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust

Megaserials have become the de facto next step for Tamil cinema heroines past their prime. Following in the footsteps of actresses like Radhika, Devayani, Kausalya, Suganya, etc., Meena too has turned to television now that her film career is, for all practical purposes, over. She is the heroine of Lakshmi, Sun TV's new megaserial that premiered today. I guess megaserials have now become quite respectable since they now seem to be attracting heroines before their careers have completely died down and they have been completely forgotten by the public.

Meena is probably the most popular heroine so far to take the jump from movies to television. She was among the top heroines not too long ago, being the heroine of choice for Rajni, Kamal and many other heroes. But ironically, that proved to be her undoing as she came to be seen as a 'mature' heroine and younger heroes like Vijay and Ajith didn't want to be paired up with her. She herself was quite vocal about this too, complaining that though she was young enough to act as their heroines, her image went against her. Not that her complaining changed their minds though. All it got her was an item number with Vijay in his Shah Jahan.

Meena's career went through the same downslide that the careers of most Tamil heroines take. After being the heroine of all the top stars, the first signs of the decline in her stock came when she started acting with second-rung heroes. The fact that her career was on its last legs was clear when she showed up as Amman in devotional movies. And the final sign came when she began acting as the heroine in Malayalam movies. From there it was a short step to acting in megaserials.

Not that acting in a megaserial is such a bad thing. Knowing the length of most megaserials, Lakshmi will probably keep her in the public eye for quite a while. Consequently, it will serve as a steady source of income, more than making up for the lack of film roles. She gets an important role in a story that revolves around her (she got an introduction befitting a Rajni or Vijay in today's episode as the camera showed us glimpses of her hands, eyes, etc. before introducing her!) and so, will get to polish her acting skills. And it will keep her in the limelight so that a director looking for an actress to play Vijay's anni a year down the road will remember her!

With megaserials showing no signs of decreasing in popularity, it is quite possible that Lakshmi will turn out to be a hit like Chithi, Selvi or Kolangal. For Meena's sake, lets hope that it is...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sivaji Statue

Sun TV today morning telecast the function marking the unveiling of 'Sivaji' Ganesan's statue, which took place on July 21 (his death anniversary) and was attended by a number of important personalities from the Tamil film industry. Its been awhile since I've watched such an 'all-star' function in Tamil cinema and so it made for fun viewing.

My wife's biggest question was whether Sivaji even deserved a statue. Sure he was a great actor but does that alone entitle him to a statue alongside statues for people like Gandhi? He was an entertainer who dazzled us with his performances but he was also paid handsomely for his talent. And unlike MGR, he was a failure as a politician. So while an award in his name makes perfect sense, a statue was a bit too much, in her opinion.

Such questions never entered my mind though. I was just happy that we got another occasion where we could see a number of popular film personalities gathered together and hear them speak. But from the speeches, it wasn't clear at many places whether the function was about Sivaji or Karunanidhi! All the speakers, after dutifully praising Sivaji, made it a point to talk in glowing terms about Karunanidhi erecting a statue for him.

The function had speeches by Karunanidhi, Rajni, Kamal, Vairamuthu, Bagyaraj and AVM Saravanan. The Sun TV program also had people like Surya, Vijay, Satyaraj, Prashanth, 'Jayam' Ravi, Srikanth, Sneha, Meena, Thiagarajan, Vadivelu, Sivakumar, S.A.Chandrasekhar, K.S.Ravikumar, Manorama and Saroja Devi talk about Sivaji. The speeches ranged from the good to the boring with the speeches by Vairamuthu, Rajni, Surya, Satyaraj and Vadivelu being among the better ones .

The best parts of the program were the clips shown from Sivaji movies. The clips from movies like Parasakthi, Navarathiri, Thillaana Mohanambal, Uyarndha Manidhan, Manohara, Thevar Magan, etc. showed us just how versatile he was. Truly a great actor...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cold Moon

With Cold Moon, Jeffery Deaver proves once again that he is truly a "master of twists". His last few books, whether part of the Lincoln Rhyme series(The Twelfth Card) or otherwise (Garden of Beasts), were a little weak on his trademark twists. But he makes up for them in Cold Moon, which, after the halfway point, bombards us with one big twist after another. As someone who relishes surprising twists, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

In Cold Moon, Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic NYPD detective, is pitted against the Watchmaker, a serial killer who has already killed two victims. Rhyme's investigation becomes more urgent when he learns that the Watchmaker plans to kill atleast 8 more people, all in ways where they die slowly and painfully. Meanwhile his assitant Amelia Sach's attention is divided when she becomes lead detective on a case involving corrupt cops.

The novel starts off in regular fashion with a cold-blooded serial killer being chased by Rhyme. With a killer like the Watchmaker and a cop like Rhyme, things never get boring but there's nothing special either. Deaver leads his investigation in his usual, painstaking way, confined to his bed while we get a glimpse of the cold-heartedness and meticulousness of the Watchmaker. Deaver has always been able to create likeable characters and he continues that here. Ron Pulaski gets an expanded role and his sincerity is easy to like while Katheryn Dance, who studies the body language of witnesses and suspects, is an interesting addition.

But after the midway point, Deaver completely turns the tables on us with a series of twists. And these are not your regular, James Patterson-kinda twists simply about the identity of the killer either. Deaver dazzles us with narrative turns that catch us completely by surprise. As he reveals each new layer of the complicated story, it gives a new dimension to everything we read about before. The twists keep coming right until the end and the different threads of the story are tied together very satisfyingly.

The turns the story takes definitely require suspension of disbelief. In hindsight, they make the the plans the people involved hatch so complicated that we feel that its impossible for anyone to plan, let alone execute, such things. But there are no obvious loose ends and the element of surprise keeps us turning the pages.

Friday, July 21, 2006

2 New Reviews

Reviews for Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi and Kusthi are online @ bbreviews.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


M.Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water hits theaters tomorrow. Ever since The Sixth Sense catapulted the director to fame, a big, final twist has become his trademark in his films. Both Unbreakable and The Village maintained his reputation by throwing in a big twist in the climax but Signs did not end in that way. He has repeatedly stressed that The Lady in the Water also does not have any big twist but people are not going to believe him till they see the film.

Based on the initial reviews, the film seems to be a departure from his usual kind of movies. Though the trailer takes pains to make it seem like it offers up the same combination of chills and suspense as his earlier movies, it seems to be more of a fairy tale or a fantasy. He proved with The Village that he is enough of a brand name to make viewers see his film on the strength of his name alone. And his name is what is going to bring them to this film too since it has no big stars. But after the first weekend, the film will run only if word of mouth is good. Have to wait and watch if that happens...

MSN has listed their favorite 10 twist endings in English films. Some popular ones like The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects don't find a place in the list. And I haven't seen some of the old ones mentioned like Suspicion and Witness for the Prosecution. But no complaints about the films that I have seen that made the list. Films like The Others, Oldboy and Fight Club completely blindsided me with their final revelations and would've made my top 10 list also.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Big Sur - Hearst Castle

Went down to Big Sur and Hearst Castle last Saturday. We did visit Hearst Castle but since the winding Highway 1 route didn't agree too well with Karthik, we did just a fraction of what we had planned, with respect to Big Sur. So it ended up more like a dress rehearsal of a real trip to Big Sur. But the few glimpses I had of the coastline did strengthen my resolve to make up for for what we missed, another day.

Highway 1, winding along beside the ocean, makes for a great drive. For someone who loves stopping at different spots to just look at the scenery, the drive will take a really long time since each point could be a vista point offering dramatically different views of the ocean, the beaches and waves crashing on the rocks. Due to time constraints we stopped only at a few points but the string of state parks on the way promised coastal access, which meant beaches and great views. So we wanted to stop at a couple on the way back from the castle.

Hearst Castle was built by William Randolph Hearst and is located in San Simeon. It is impressive, different and makes for an interesting tour but unless you are a history buff or have an more-than-usual interest in castles in general, the tour, at $24/ticket is definitely over-priced. What makes it worse is that the castle is divided into four tours and so you get to see only a part of it(accompanied by a lot of talking) on each tour.

A bus takes us to the castle, which is about 5 miles away from the visitor center and from there, its a lot of walking and talking. We took the Experience tour, which is recommended for first-time visitors and got to see the swimming pool, the courtyard and garden, a few of the bedrooms and bathrooms, the huge visitor's room, the dining hall and an indoor swimming pool. They are all visually very impressive and the extravagance is very obvious. The swimming pools in particular are very colorful and eye-catching. From a history and trivia point of view, most interesting was the dining room(which reminds one of the dining hall in Hogwarts castle). Surprisingly, Kavya really enjoyed the castle visit since she considered it a 'princess castle'!

With Karthik not reacting well to the winding drive, we decided to take the straight but rather un-scenic 101 back home from the castle. So we never got a chance to stop at those state parks we had planned to visit. Oh well... there's always a next time :-)

A few pictures(taken with my new S3 IS!) from the trip can be seen here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Old(er) and the Beautiful - Part II

In the previous post, I wrote about why I regarded the actresses of the last generation so highly. Continuing the stroll down that particular memory lane, here are my thots on 5 favorite heroines from those times…

One more of director Bharatiraja’s ‘R’ heroines, Revathi firmly established herself as the best actress of her times. Introduced in Mann Vaasanai, she gave indications of her talent in her first film itself. Without taking the glamour route (which she didn’t seem too suited for anyway), she chose her roles with care and became the actress most directors turned to for strong female characters. The fact that she looked as much at home playing a playful college girl as she did playing a homely housewife helped matters too. She has aged gracefully and her two films as director have proved that she also possesses good skills behind the camera.

Must-watch: Mouna Raagam, Pudhumai Penn, Punnagai Mannan, Kizhakku Vaasal, Marupadiyum

T.Rajendhar has imposed a number of horrors (showing up on screen, rhyming dialogs and Simbhu, to name a few) upon us. But he made up for atleast some of them by introducing Amala to Tamil cinema. She looked a little plump and gawky in her first film Mythili Ennai Kaadhali and her expressions, while dancing and while acting, were laughable. But she flowered into this gorgeous heroine with great screen presence and superb dancing skills. Even her deep voice and broken Tamil added to her charm. As she proved at the Filmfare function, she’s lost none of her beauty and can still break hearts.

Must-watch: Agni Nakshathiram, Sathya, Velaikkaaran, Pesum Padam, Mounam Sammadham

Not beautiful or pretty in the traditional way, Gauthami was incredibly cute in her first film Guru Sishyan (it didn’t hurt that she had great chemistry with Rajni!). She was content to play glamour doll roles aside big heroes mostly but proved, usually with Kamal, that she could rise to the occasion when the role demanded it. Now paired with Kamal in real life too, she looks dignified and carries herself well.

Must-watch: Guru Sishyan, Devar Magan, Aboorva Sagodharargal

One of the actresses criminally underused by Tamil cinema. Right from the time she was introduced in Enakkul Oruvan, she always seemed to struggle between going the glamour route and the serious route and eventually ended up stuck between the two. But Malayalam cinema, where she had no problems taking the serious route, exploited her potential fully. But she was a great dancer and nobody could carry off a saree quite as sexily as her.

Must-watch: Manichithrathazhu, Thenmaavin Kombathu

Probably the most decent heroine Tamil cinema has had so far, Nadhiya still acted in several films. She was always lively, had a great smile and was full of energy. She played the role of a chirpy young girl right from her first film, Fazil’s Poove Poochoodavaa and remained a touch-me-not heroine right till her last film, Rajadhi Raja (there was even a rumour that she refused to act with Kamal because of his reputation with his heroines). She came back as a mom in M.Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi and made us feel like she could just as well have played the heroine.

Must-watch: Poove Poochoodavaa, Pookkalai Parikkaadheergal, Rajadhi Raja, M.Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Old(er) and the Beautiful - Part I

Whenever my parents sang praises of Padmini and other actresses of that era, I always thought that they were simply stuck in the past and refused to look fairly at the actresses I was fans of when I was growing up (there were a lot of them!). I could never understand how they could find Padmini prettier than Amala. Or how they could appreciate Vijayanthi Mala’s dance more than Banupriya’s. Or admire Savitri’s acting more than Revathi’s. Eventually, I just attributed the differing tastes to the generation gap and gave up trying to convince them.

But now I find myself in the same boat! Looking at how fabulous Nadiya looks even today in the photos of the launch of Hari’s new film Thaamirabarani, I couldn’t help remembering some of my favorite Tamil cinema heroines during the 80s and the 90s. And based on those fond memories, I think I would sing their praises loudly too if a die-hard fan of the current crop of heroines, including Jo, started up a conversation with me.

Tamil cinema has definitely become more hero-oriented in the last couple of decades and that is probably one big reason why the heroines from the last generation made a bigger impact on me. While they did act in roles that required them to be just glamour dolls, they also showed up frequently in more substantive roles. They managed to bag movies that revolved around them or in which they played an integral part of the story. And they actually stayed around long enough for us to get to like them.

But for today’s heroines, their talent is measured in terms of factors that revolve around the hero. So the only considerations when picking a heroine for a film are whether she is lucky for the hero and shares good chemistry with him. One flop and she turns into a jinx, losing out on the opportunity to act with him again. Their emoting or dancing skills rarely come into the picture since they are never utilized. Sure there’s the occasional Ghajini, where an actress gets a meaty role. But for every movie like that, there are 10 Tiruppaachis and Tirupathis where the heroine’s part is totally expendable.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean 1 was one of the few movies I’ve enjoyed just for the performance of its lead actor. Sure it had some nice action and a very pretty heroine. But what elevated the movie from being just another action film was Johny Depp’s performance. His staggering movements, slurred speech and befuddled expressions together created a very memorable character in Captain Jack Sparrow and he simply carried the movie on his shoulders. I didn’t think it was possible but Johny Depp gets pushed to the background in Pirates of the Caribbean 2. And without him taking centrestage, the film has a tough time holding our attention.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2 too has some great set pieces and action sequences. The group’s escape from the cannibals is chaotic but great fun and the sequences that feature the attack of the sea-monster Kraken are mindblowing. The long climax is non-stop action and brings in a lot of variety in terms of locations and props used. The sense of fun is never lost and all the fights feature moments that make us smile.

But separating these sequences are long patches marked by backstories, character development and even a little bonding. None of the characters introduced (or brought back) are as interesting as Captain Jack and they haven’t earned the emotional investment needed to make their stories interesting to us. It is in these places that Jack Sparrow is badly missed. He is not seen for long periods of time and even when he is around, he seems strangely subdued. He is just not as high-spirited as he was in the previous film and so is not as much fun.

But the film makes sure that everyone who sees it will be awaiting the next part eagerly. It brings in a new development that makes us curious about how it will play out, in the love story between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. It also ends with a great cliffhanger (and brings back an interesting character from the first film) that promises even more action the next time around.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Singing (And Dancing) in the Rain

Rediff had recently listed some of the famous rain songs in Hindi films. At the top of the list, as expected, was the immortal Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua… number from Shri 420, which gave us the iconic shot of Raj Kapoor and Nargis under an umbrella in the rain. I don’t think the rains have yielded any similar iconic shots in Tamil cinema but we do have our share of memorable rain songs.

In movies, rain has been pretty closely associated with eroticism and Tamil cinema is no exception. Rain provides a natural excuse for transparent clothes being plastered to the heroines’ curvaceous bodies and this makes dances in the rain a voyeur’s delight. Our choreographers do their bit with sexy steps and erotic moves and it helps that our heroines always manage to be clad in white sarees when it rains! Sridevi drunkenly staggering to Endhan Kannill… in Guru and Shobana dancing to one of the songs in Siva come to mind as examples. But seeing songs from films like Dharmakshetram and Gharana Mogudu has made me think that our Telugu counterparts were a lot more notorious in this aspect.

But what the wet heroines usually make us forget is that rain makes for some spectacular cinematography. The dark clouds, the falling rain, the splashes from the puddles and the water droplets on everything from leaves to the heroine’s skin can all be captured beautifully, resulting in a feast for the eyes. Oho Megam Vandhadhe… from Mouna Raagam and Vaan Megam… from Punnagai Mannan were a couple of songs that proved this.

Apart from white sarees, the other thing associated with rain in Tamil movies is tragedy. I guess the logic is that when a man is down, getting wet is the worst thing that can happen to him! So we’ve had several movies (Mugavari is one that comes to mind mainly because the scene stood as very ridiculous in the otherwise realistic movie) where sadness is immediately followed by thunder and rain, so that the wet hero can launch into a pathos song. I guess Thakita Thadhimi… from Salangai Oli would be another example, though that was probably one of the few cases where the rain was actually used to convey visually, something very beautiful.

Not many rain songs have been impressive recently. Though named Mazhai and having most important scenes and songs take place in the rain, that film didn’t really do anything special in capturing the rain on camera. On the other hand, one of the well-picturized rain songs recently was Sil Sil Mazhaiye… from Arindhum Ariyaamalum. The beats, the music, the lyrics and the singing really expressed the joy of splashing around in the rain and the picturization, though inspired by one of the songs in Dil To Paagal Hai, did full justice to the song also.

Rain has become such an integral part of our movies that I don’t think our filmmakers will be singing Rain Rain Go Away… any time soon :-)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


1. Where was MGR born?
2. What was the original name of New York?
3. Which Tamil comedian's original name was Gundu Rao?

The above 3 are questions, from recent segments of Thanga Vettai, for which I did not know the answers before. How about you guys?

I've written before about Thanga Vettai's improvements in several aspects and the episodes screened the last few weeks have convinced me that the improvements were not just temporary aberrations. The quiz show is definitely maintaining its improved standards and has made me look forward to it for reasons other than just seeing Ramya Krishnan :-)

There is nice variety in the format the questions are posed in the different rounds. I especially like the segment where the kids have to answer questions on selected topics and if they don't know the answer, they can ask the elder for a clue (the clues themselves are scrambled and so the elder has to know the answer to figure out the clue that applies to that question). The 'memory round' and the last round, where someone has to compose a question (from pieces hidden in random boxes) in the allotted time before figuring out the answer, is fun too. Now if they could just take out the segment where Ramya describes her saree and her jewellery in great detail, we would have a really nice quiz program on our hands.

There are still some dumbos, like the girl doing her B.E, who said an inch is 2.54 decimeters (keep in mind that this was a multiple choice question with the other choices being 2.54 mm, 2.54cm and 2.54 meters). But on the whole, the program's a lot smarter than before and my general knowledge improves atleast a little bit at the end of it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cinemakshari Answers

Thank you for the enthusiastic participation in last month's Cinemakshari. Hope it was fun. Almost everyone got it right once I published the clues and I have individually responded to all those who sent in their answers. But for the sake of achieving closure, here are the solutions...

Netru Indru Naalai (Old MGR film)
Naalai Namadhe (MGR film – remake of Hindi hit)
Nam Naadu (MGR film with the number Nalla Perai Vaanga Vendum Pillaigale…)
Naattukkoru Nallavan (Rajni’s big-budget flop)
Nallavanukku Nallavan (Rajni-Radhika hit)
Nalla Thambi (Old NSK starrer)
Thambikku Endha Ooru (Rajni’s ‘watershed’ movie)
Oor Kaavalan (Rajni-Radhika flop)
Kaaval Dheivam (Old Sivaji film)
Dheiva Vaakku (Karthik-Revathi starrer)

Based on the speed at which I got responses, it looks like the version without clues was too tough while the clues made it a bit too easy. So I just need to strike a good balance between the two for the next edition of the game. Ideas welcome :)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Superman Returns

Finally, the biggest superhero of ‘em all gets the respect he deserves! The earlier Superman films, while definitely enjoyable and entertaining, were light-hearted affairs. They were almost children’s films that maintained the feel of the comic books. Bryan Singer, fresh from helming another set of superheroes in X-Men and X-Men 2, injects a shift in tone, making Superman Returns the sort of grand, epic film that the Man of Steel deserves.

Superman is definitely the most simplistic of the superheroes. He is really ‘super’ and so, barring kryptonite, has no physical weakness (Batman and Spiderman, on the other hand, are essentially human, which puts limits to their strength). He has only 1 popular villain, Lex Luthor, and pines for Lois Lane in a very old-fashioned way. So he has very little emotional baggage. All this makes him unsuitable for the current trend of angst-ridden, dark superheroes. So Singer sends him off on a quest to find the remains of Krypton and starts the movie with his return to Earth after 5 years. Naturally, he finds a number of changes, the biggest of which is that Lois Lane has a boyfriend and a son. His arch enemy Lex Luthor is also out of jail and this time, its Superman’s fault.

In earlier movies, it was only Clark Kent who pined for Lois from a distance. She wouldn’t give Clark the time of day but cozied up to the Man of Steel. But in Superman Returns, Superman too is forced to long for Lois from a distance. She hates him for leaving without notice and has moved on with her life. So he has to watch from the sidelines (this is illustrated by a great scene where he watches from outside her house as she goes about her chores). This gives the movie an emotional hook that sets it apart from the earlier movies in the franchise.

The action scenes are spectacular and the smoothness with which Superman takes off, lands and lifts everything from an aircraft to a giant model of the Earth, is superb. His flying is completely believable and his speed and power, like in the scene where he flies through the Daily Planet building to save Perry White, have been conveyed effectively. We believe he is actually flying everywhere instead of in front of a blue screen. The special effects also make their presence felt in smaller scenes like the ones where Superman uses his X-ray vision to spy on Lois in an elevator or inside her home.

Brandon Routh slips into Superman’s costume easily and ensures we don’t miss Christopher Reeve and Kate Bosworth makes a feisty Lois Lane. Surprisingly, the most respected actor in the cast is the one who makes a few missteps. Kevin Spacey seems confused about whether to play Lex Luthor straight or over-the-top. He is always good ofcourse but the over-the-top scenes don’t fit in with the sober tone of rest of the movie.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi

Any time a producer or director offers something fresh and different, that effort deserves to be welcomed with open arms. And when that effort actually works, its truly time to rejoice. So its time to rejoice since Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi, produced by director Shankar and directed by debutant Chimbudeven, is fresh, different and works very well.

The story is a take-off on Sivaji's Uthama Puthiran. Sangilimaayan(Nasser), the queen's brother, has killed the first 22 sons of the king(Nagesh) of Chozhapuram with the intention of becoming the next king. But when he learns that the queen(Manorama) has now delivered twins and that one of them will be easy to control, he plans to bring up the baby as his hand-puppet and orders the other baby to be set afloat in the river. So one baby grows up to be Pulikesi(Vadivelu), a cowardly king who openly socializes with the British while his twin brother Ukkirabudhan(Vadivelu), brought up in Kanchipuram, turns into a patriotic revolutionary who is saddened by the state of the kingdom. When he gets the chance, he switches places with the king and sets out to set things right.

Right from the first scene where a caption identifies a lizard as an aranmanai palli, the film announces its intention to be a comedy loud and clear. And as it proceeds it proves to be an almost perfect mix of verbal and physical comedy. One can laugh at the clever and funny dialogs just as much as one can laugh at Vadivelu's expressions and all-around ineptness (a poet's first visit to the court illustrates this combination perfectly as the poet's words and subsequent explanation and Vadivelu's reactions to the words result in one of funniest sequences in the film). In fact, the entire first half had me laughing harder than I've laughed in a long time. An additional bonus is that the physical comedy rarely turns into slapstick.

The film also proves to be more ambitious than remaining just a simple comedy. It deftly blends in social commentary and turns into a satire at more than one place, but does all that without losing its comic touch. Thinly-veiled jabs at Pepsi and the associated celebrity advertisements, a brilliant segment that draws associations with a modern-day cricket match(complete with stadium hoardings, tea-breaks and a 'man-of-the-match' award) and potshots at the workings of a government office are all examples of this. In fact, every aspect of Pulikesi's rule, like his collusion with thieves and the bribery, could be applied to the workings of a corrupt government today.

Once the twins switch places, the film loses a little of its comic momentum. With Vadivelu correcting his predecessor's wrongs, the film is forced to play it straight. This is good for the country but not for the film! And the king in prison (even if it is a very casual one) is not half as funny as the king in court. But the director himself has recognized this and interrupts Ukkirabudhan's good deeds with a flashback of Pulikesi on a bear hunt. The long flashback is very transparent as a ploy to keep the comedy flowing but it works since it is very funny and reminds us that the film is still a comedy.

Its official! Vadivelu has completely grown on me! He is a delight as Pulikesi and his trademark expressions(when he is insulted or surprised) are hilarious. Ukkirabudhan is probably the more difficult character since he has to play him straight. Though we laugh initially when we see him, he gradually overcomes that and makes us accept him as who he is. Thats a big accomplishment. One big reason the movie works as a historical also(as opposed to just a comedy) is that many of the supporting actors also play it straight. Nasser is terrific in the role of the Rajaguru. He is adequately villainous in many places and his performance wouldn't be out of place even in a much more serious film. Ilavarasu is the only other actor with a big role and he serves as the perfect foil to Vadivelu, insulting him without seeming to do so. A number of other actors, both old and new, show up on screen in supporting roles.

Technically, the movie is a disappointment. Inspite of Shankar's claims, the movie looks pretty cheap. And that's a big minus for a period film. The sets look ready to fall down at the next gust of wind and the costumes for most of the players look like they were borrowed from a stage play. None of the scenes inspire the sense of awe that period films are supposed to do. The little special effects there are are really bad and the few scenes where the two Vadivelus share the screen are very clumsily done. Song sequences are picturized well with Aadi Vaa... being the pick of the lot just because of its liveliness.

Friday, July 07, 2006

2 New Reviews

Reviews for Kai Vandha Kalai and Naalai are online @ bbreviews.

King vs Pirate

Pulikesi and Jack Sparrow... Hopefully, I get to meet both of them this weekend :)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Canon Powershot S3 IS

[Pic Courtesy dpreview]

I finally upgraded my A510 and became the owner of a Canon Powershot S3 IS yesterday. Longtime readers will remember that the last time I was shopping around for a camera, I had picked the Powershot S2 IS as my dream camera. So it was natural that the S3 IS, Canon's upgrade(relatively minor one though) to the S2 IS, was my dream pick this time around. I eventually ended up buying the A510 last time due to budget restrictions but this time, the dream became real and the S3 IS is now in my hands.

Unlike the last time, the selection process was pretty short this time. Having decided on the "ultra-zoom, compact" category, there weren't as many entries to consider as the last time. Based on the reviews, the only real competition to the S3 IS came from Sony's DSC-H2 and Panasonic's DMZ-FZ7. I didn't consider the latter much but the former has gotten great reviews and since it is cheaper, uses only 2 AA batteries and comes with rechargeable batteries and a charger, it provides more bang for the buck. But the A510 has made me wary of cameras using only 2 AAs since the flash takes a while to recharge and I had to wait a frustrating 4-5 seconds between shots when using the flash (this was a huge pain any time I had to pictures indoors). And my partiality to Canon when it comes to cameras finally made me go with the S3 IS.

The S3 IS is no D-SLR but comes pretty close. It has 6 MP resolution and a huge 12X optical zoom. Unlike the S2 IS, which came only in silver, the S3 IS also comes in black. It has image stabilization, which is crucial when using the large zoom, and its 'super' macro mode allows macro shots at distances of 0cm! Ofcourse it has all the usual bells and whistles like full manual controls, preset modes for fireworks, snow, etc., an AF-assist lamp and a flip-out LCD. There are also some 'cool' features like the ability to snap a photo with only 1 color(all other colors show up as black & white) or take a photo with 1 color swapped with another. Improvements over the S2 IS also include a live histrogram when taking pictures. I pretty much never use the movie mode on cameras but the one on this camera is supposed to be the best in the business.

Let the clicking begin!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Coming Soon - Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi

Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi paraak, paraak, paraak! The issue with the Animal Welfare Board has been cleared (thanks to a meeting Shankar and Vadivelu had with Karunanidhi) and the film is finally arriving in theaters(including IMC6) this Friday.

The aspect that makes me really look forward to Imsai Arasan is its genre. Tamil cinema producers and directors have a follow-the-herd mentality when it comes to film themes. When a film clicks, we immediately get a string of films in the same genre (right now it’s the time of the raw and realistic gangster films as evidenced by movies like Pattiyal, Pudhuppettai, Thalainagaram, Naalai, etc.). But here comes a film that is not only breaking the trend but is actually inventing a new genre for Tamil cinema – the historical comedy. Tamil cinema has had a number of historicals (though its been awhile since we’ve seen one hit the screens) but I think this is the first time we’re getting a historical with comedy as its main agenda and a comedian as its hero.

The film marks Vadivelu’s first film as hero and further proves that the comedian’s stock is steadily rising in Tamil cinema. Personally I still prefer Vivek over Vadivelu since the former has had a much better hit ratio in his comedy tracks. But with films like Winner, Giri and Chandramukhi, Vadivelu has definitely grown on me. He now makes me laugh when he first appears on screen and has developed his own, unique style that can get laughs out of otherwise unfunny situations and lines. Vivek made the jump to leading man earlier but his film(Solli Adippen) has been stalled while Vadivelu landed a much bigger banner and a much more talked-about film. And if the film becomes a hit, there’ll be no catching him!

Imsai Arasan is produced by Shankar. With Kaadhal, the director proved that he had an eye for good projects as producer also. The film was a love story(and a tragic one at that) at a time when action films were more popular and the director, Balaji Sakthivel, was someone who had directed an action film(Samurai) earlier. But he went ahead with the film and saw it become both a critical and a commercial superhit. So his taking up production is a good sign for Imsai Arasan. Based on the trailers, he has not skimped on money and the film has an expensive look, which is really important for a historical to work.

While I haven’t read anything about the soundtrack being a hit, the songs are pretty good. They invoke the mood of a historical and with the right kind of picturization, could still become popular. Music director duo Sabesh-Murali have calculatedly made the songs remind us of popular old numbers but without making them seem like rip-offs. So they seem immediately familiar and had me humming them.

There’s little competition now with no big movies in theaters. And with summer vacations, the movie has a good chance of attracting the family audience. Let’s wait and see if Imsai Arasan also becomes the Box-Office Arasan…

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July

Celebrated this year's 4th of July in a very 'American' way. Lunch was a barbeque with grilled corn, vegetable skewers and ofcourse, veggie burgers. We had piggybacked on some friends' barbequeing talents the last few times but this time, it was just me and my wife. But all the dishes came out pretty well and it was a very satisfying lunch.

Went to the Santa Clara Central Park for the fireworks. I was there last year also and they put up a pretty good show. The show lasts about 20 minutes and there's a huge crowd on hand. Clicked a bunch of pictures in the 'Fireworks' mode on my A510. The mode sets a 2 second exposure and so wasn't expecting much from the pictures since the camera was handheld and it was a bit windy too. But a few came out OK. The trails of the fireworks came out squiggly due to the camera shake but that just seemed to make the photos jazzier :-)

Monday, July 03, 2006

2 Starts

Looks like they finally shot some publicity photos for Vijay's Pokkiri. The low-key nature of the film's publicity continues since the stills are pretty simple compared to the first few publicity shots we saw for movies like Ghajini, Bheema, etc. No fancy sets or props or backdrops. Just Vijay in a variety of poses (even Asin appears in only 2 of the photos). But he looks a lot more scrubbed-down and presentable comparable to his appearance in Aadhi. The bird's nest on his head and the tired look on his face from that film have both thankfully disappeared.


Another star son has been launched. This time its P.Vasu's son Prashanth(rechristened as Sakthi) and he's been launched with a lot of fanfare as his movie's launch was attended by the likes of Rajni, Kamal, Satyaraj, Jayaprada, Balakrishna, Prabhu and A.V.M.Saravanan. The film is titled Thottaal Poo Malarum and is being directed by P.Vasu. Sakthi looks better than many of the heroes we've seen recently and resembles Vijay a little bit.

P.Vasu's one lucky guy. He's a pretty bad director whose filmmaking style seems to be stuck in the 80s. But both Chandramukhi and Paramasivan, which had heroes who were making comebacks after career dips, became hits. So Vasu is now considered as a director who turns things around for heroes! Lets see if some of his luck rubs off on his son...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Shadow Man

Shadow Man is a terrific thriller from new author Cody Mcfayden. I've complained before that the serial killer genre has reached saturation since there's only so many ways a story about a serial killer and the man/woman after him can be made interesting. But Mcfayden proves that the genre still has some steam left in it by penning a book that abides by all conventions of the genre but still manages to be an exciting page-turner.

The book is a first-person narrative by Smoky Barrett, an FBI agent who lost her husband and her daughter in a brutal attack by a serial killer, 6 months ago. She killed the man but the painful memories live on. As the novel starts, Smoky is weighing the two options before her - rejoin the FBI or blow her brains out. Her decision is made easier when a new serial killer enters the picture and reaches out to her personally.

The book creates some likeable protagonists in Smoky and her team. Smoky herself carries a huge cross on her back and as the killer targets her team members, we really feel for them also. So the people who are going to be affected if the killer is not apprehended are not some strangers but these people who we've come to know well. This gives their chase a sense of urgency. The chase itself is quite clever and fast, with the way they advance each step being based on good ol' investigation and painstaking work rather than intuition and guesswork.

The book's biggest strength is that it always keeps giving us something new. Through flashbacks, revelations and new characters, Mcfayden keeps surprising us every step of the way. He takes the story along in expected ways but then blindsides us with something that is completely unexpected. And he does this pretty regularly. He also does so without postponing things artificially like David Baldacci did in The Camel Club or Rowling did in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. So each surprise, when it comes, adds something new to the story and almost every chapter ends with a bang.

Every new book in the serial killer genre seems to up the ante with respect to how evil the killer is and so the books have become increasingly gruesome and violent. This is also the case with Shadow Man, which has a shockingly evil bad guy with a gruesome MO. But surprisingly, the violence here doesn't seem exploitative. So unlike the descriptions in, say, Dearly Devoted Dexter, which conveyed an uneasy feeling, the violence here simply serves to convey the depth of the evil in the villain's mind.

Mcfayden takes a few missteps towards the end though none of them derail the book. Key among this is the sex/romance, which is brought in abruptly and in a very contrived manner and lessens the respect and admiration Smoky had earned until then. The final clue that leads them to the killer also seems a little convenient.

It is always nice to read an author before he/she becomes famous since there's a sense of having 'discovered' the author before the rest of the world. So far David Baldacci is the only author on that list for me but based on Shadow Man, Mcfayden may join the list too.