Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thanmatra / Ong-Bak

These 2 movies are rather strange candidates to be grouped together for reviews. Just that I felt that one was a movie for lovers of acting while the other was a movie for lovers of action...


Thanmatra is an affecting tale of a man afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and his family’s handling of the situation. Held up by an amazing performance by Mohanlal, the film is an intimate and close look at the effect of the terrible disease.

Like some of the best Malayalam films of the past, Thanmatra is effective because it is not showy. Mohanlal is an everyman with a loving family, a regular government job and grand ambitions for his son. His downward spiral because of the disease is captured naturally and when he is under the grip of the illness, there are no artificial situations or cinematic circumstances created to illustrate its effect. Things are presented as they are.

We’re used to acting being expressive. Loud expressions, voice modulation and grand gestures are what usually make a performance memorable. But Mohanlal here is required to do the opposite. He needs to be stone-faced and inexpressive. He needs to be almost immobile. His character’s mind is blank and he needs to reflect that in his performance. It is possibly the most difficult thing to do in acting and that is why it is such a great performance. With a blank expression, a fixed smile, slurred speech and sagging shoulders, Mohanlal is scarily believable as someone who has no idea what is going on around him. It is one of those performances where you go beyond admiring the performance of the artist and you feel for the character instead.

Thanmatra is so effective because it doesn’t exploit tragedy. Yes, Mohanlal is afflicted with a terrible illness but the film doesn’t try to squeeze any more sadness out of it than what naturally happens. It surrounds him with people who love him and would do anything for him. Atleast in that, he is lucky. As his son tells him a happy news only to be rewarded with a “Who are you?” or his father tearfully wishes he could have his son back for a single second, we feel for them as much as we feel for Mohanlal.

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior

If you are tired of the obviously-fake, wire-fu stunts(however good they may look) of recent Asian films and the special-effects-filled stunts of the Hollywood films and want a throwback to the raw stunts of the Bruce Lee films, then Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is the film for you. Filled wall-to-wall with fight sequences, it’s the film martial arts lovers were waiting for.

The “no wires, no stunt doubles, no computer graphics” proclamation that the film proudly makes is its biggest strength. All the jumps, leaps, falls, hits and kicks are performed by the film’s hero Tony Jaa himself and there are enough slo-mo repeats and multiple camera angles to prove it. That adds to the thrill.

Like District B13, this film too has an exhilarating chase sequence. Designed to showcase Jaa’s agility and skill, it has him jumping through barbed wire, stepping on people’s heads, leaping over cars and sliding under trucks on the streets of Bangkok, all accompanied by thumping techno music. Quite exhilarating.

But unlike the French film, the chase serves as an appetizer rather than the meal here. After the chase, its simply one stunt sequence after the other. Jaa’s favorite move consists of leaping up and smacking into to his opponent with his knees and we almost feel the blows land. The fights do build up in bloodiness and intensity from one to the next so that every one of them manages to be arresting. Expectedly the fights at the end, like the one in the cave and the climactic showdown, are the best.


At 12:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've hardly watched any malayalam movies... the only malayalam movie i have in my extensive "library" is chanakyan...but this one seems to be pretty nice...
will see if my indian grocery has a dvd with sub-titles...

btw, bb, not a word abt anything other than lal's performance? isnt that meera? did she act well?
music yaaru?

At 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lots of people who saw thanmatra said it was v.good. i hope to see it soon.

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Bart said...

Hey Balaji, atlast you saw Thanmatra. I remember giving you a reco to this movie arnd the time of Thavamai Thavamirundhu :)
Ram, all the performances are good. Esp. the boy in Mohanlal's son's character (Arjun,his name?). The music is very good and you would be happy to know that it has a beautifully rendered "Kaatru veliyidai Kannamma" of Bharathi in it :)

At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks, bart, for the info...esp. abt the thamizh in there! :-)
off-topic here...but being a pretty crazy fan of the language, i couldnt help quoting this one line from "mannil indha kaadhal."
was listening to the song a cpl of days back as i went for a jog and this one line kinda popped out at me- "sitridaium sinna viralum, villenum puruvam."
"vill enum puruvam" -> what a wonderful piece of imagination...thamizhey, unnai vida azhagaana mozhi verundo?! (mounathai thavira!)

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji, not to highlight any of the gripes that I have been hearing in the comments sections in the last few posts over a period of two or three weeks here at bbthots, do you honestly think that a film like Thanmatra, if taken as meticulously as it has been in Malayalam, were to be taken in Tamil, would find a huge audience in Tamilnadu and/or international tamil audience?

We are not talking about box office, we are only talking about whether Thanmatra would receive overwhelming acceptance from the people (pats on the back! :-). Will people in B & C centers have the patience to understand the concepts behind the film and know that such a disease requires celluloid time and recognition? These continue to be the questions that plague tamil cinema and those who are in the front and the back of the camera. Or so, I feel.

I will definitely watch Thanmatra one of these days, but won't heave a heavy sigh after seeing it (feeling that Tamil cinema does nothing of the like!), basically because I understand what the audiences that tamil cinema is being made for, have a very circular thought and a very mass masala mentality. You can actually count the number of times they have made 'aesthetic' cinema a success purely on the basis of good word of mouth and positive reviews.

As much as we whine to our heart's content about how good cinema (which may or may not commercial) is not being made and how our actors and actresses ham for a living.. it's not all their fault. For the purposes of illustration, if every masala film during Deepavali '06 & Pongal '07, Tamil New Year '07 (even Dasavatharam & Sivaji! :-) and all interim masala films flopped (and we chose to boycott the masala crap), maybe we will force scriptwriters and directors to sit down and re-assess their scripts and their films and maybe try to think out of the box.

But then again, not all masala films are going to flop and nothing will ever change overnight... So, we need to change, in order for our films to start changing themselves.

This, I feel, is a very opposite thinking to what I have been reading here in this blog. If we stopped accepting thugs, auto drivers, mike set operators and goondas as our heroes, then maybe we'll see more doctors, engineers, water purification specialists! (:-) a la Kanaa Kandaen!) and hopefully some moving tales about these characters.

Until then... hmmmm....

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to add that education makes a big difference in perception. The way we behave (whether politely or uncouthly) and our daily habits are truly modified by how learned we are as a society. A film like Thanmatra, which showcases the difficulties of a particular disease, requires us to be compassionate and show some understanding and consciousness to the disease and people who suffer from it. So the question of how educated our masses are in interpreting such films comes into play more often when films like Thanmatra are being made.

Can't remember now, but heard from my dad a very long time ago that Kerala was 100% literate (an amazing feat indeed!). Goes to show why Malayalam movie industry has the liberty and artistic freedom to make the kind of films that they really want to make (when and if they want to make it!). Please misinterpret this to mean that all Malayalam films are first-rate and polished all the time. Their educated masses gives them the considerable freedom to make difficult/risky subjects into films and make a good business proposition at the same time, that's all!

(This particular comment is a followup to my previous comment, only to support the fact that we have a long way to go, the tamil society as a whole, before we try to make greater amends to our entertainment indusrty! :-). That we tend to associate with goondas and thugs as our heroes, indicates something about us, our society and our inclinations than it necessarily does that our movie industry spoon feeds us on a constant basis.

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That should read "Please don't misinterpret" in the second paragraph... Not "please misinterpret".. Sorry for the typo!

At 2:56 PM, Blogger A Dreamer... said...

So many people before me have commented about Thanmantra. Let me be the one to say something about Ong-bak. The hero in this movie uses a type of martial arts, kickboxing called Muay Thai. I watched this movie with one of my friends. He is big time into different types of kickboxing, while I have learnt aerobic kickboxing. Every kick, roundhouse kick or a punch made more sense. It was a movie that entertained from the begining till end. I kind of thought it was like a tamil movie - with sentimental stuff, so called comedy and a lot of action (Good Action:))


At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

while I have learnt aerobic kickboxing.

--> sowmya, unge punai paeru ena Vijayshanti-ya?! kalakkunge...!

At 6:34 PM, Blogger A Dreamer... said...


Appadi ellam ella...
It is just a way to keep fit...My jabs or kicks have no power in them :(


At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sandhya, your comments are indecently patronizing. First of all, TN has nearly the literacy rate of Kerala. Secondly, why should anyone prefer a engineer hero to an autodriver or a mike set operator -- the prejudices you betray are precisely the reason that poorer audiences prefer heroes of their own class. Plenty of educated people don't want to watch Thanmatra -- even when they can download it for free.

I find it hilarious that you complain about Tamil movie audiences, but when Tamil movie audiences complain about any of your favorite pets, you make a thousand and one excuses. If you really want Tamil cinema to advance, convince Madhavan to retire.

At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sowmya.. aerobic kickboxing? I am very impressed. Wow! :-)

Anonymous.. nobody is saying here that just because we accept engineers and doctors as heroes, the films would be superlative.. it is more a question of whether we even feel a need that our heroes have to be different. So, nothing has been tried on a consistent basis to prove that doctors, engineers or the like make better heroes because our tamil movie industry doesn't even try it to prove me otherwise. But then again, that is the not the point of my entire comment anyways. My point consistently has been that we as an audience are numb to 'good,' 'different' cinema in many ways. You can look at some of our best films (think of any of the classic Tamil movies made so far!) ever and find that many of them are bolstered by superb performances (in almost all cases!), very rarely by unique characterizations, locations, story or screenplay. When the characterizations, locations, story or screenplay is different or unique, invariably, the film doesn't get an audience at the theater. Why do you think that happens?

Let's get back to literacy: Do you claim that TN has 100% literacy? Does everyone in TN know how to read and write?.. Okay, forget that. Let's look at us in relation to emotions and choices. Generally, all of the movie going public succumbs to certain likes and dislikes, in turn they make choices as to what films they wish to see. If we consistently neglect good films made with strong scripts and great performances, what does that say about us? Can we be blamed and scrutinized for poor taste and poor choice instead of poor education and judgement? Either way, it doesn't say much about us as an audience.

You have to remember that I am including myself when I evaluate tamil movie audiences. I may very well be prejudiced (I could make an argument that every single human being who has an opinion about something/anything, can be categorized as biased!), but my taste and choice in good movies (which would include a film like Thanmatra) cannot be held against me.

By the way, Anonymous, what makes you think that plenty of educated people don't want to watch Thanmatra? (regardless of whether they can download it for free or not! :-)

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, Anonymous, what makes you think that plenty of educated people don't want to watch Thanmatra? (regardless of whether they can download it for free or not! :-)

--> ennode kuththam ulla nenju kurukurukkudhey...!!

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you really want Tamil cinema to advance, convince Madhavan to retire."

anonymous, madhavan isnt half as bad as Ajith. Not that he is spectacular, but he is less medicore.

"but my taste and choice in good movies (which would include a film like Thanmatra) cannot be held against me. "

you mean like Ajith and KS Ravikumar's masalas? :-) Tch Tch..

You yourself seem to be an example of the mass mentality and "circular thought" that you feel are plaguing Tamil audiences. Maybe if you stop watching all the bad movies while fighting boredom at home, it might improve the taste a bit :-) Watching too many bad movies in the name of being a movie buff, can have an effect on your aesthetic sensibilites.

If you make a committment to watching movies of Ajith/Vijay/KSR and the likes only on thiruttu VCDs (or better boycott them completely) that might be a small contribution towards helping further Tamil cinema :-)


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