Sunday, December 31, 2006

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Nenjil, Chennai Kaadhal and Thiruvilaiyaadal Aarambam are now online @ bbreviews. These are the final reviews for 2006. And this will be the final blog post for 2006.

See you in the New Year... Wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2007 :)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thiruvilaiyaadal Aarambam

We’ve had actor-director pairs(Vikram-Hari, to name one) start off great(Saami) only to disappoint with their subsequent film(Arul). But Dhanush and director Bhoopathy Pandian have fortunately moved in the other direction. After the boring and plotless Devadhaiyai Kanden, the two have come together again to deliver a funny, entertaining film in Thiruvilaiyaadal Aarambam. One just wishes it had been a little more original too.

Thirukkumaran(Dhanush) is one of those familiar Tamil cinema heroes who has no job, hangs out with equally-jobless friends and as a result of those 2 things, is constantly at the receiving end of rebukes and lectures from his father(Mouli). When things come to a head with his father, he walks out of the house. Its love at first sight when he sees Priya(Shriya), the sister of a rich businessman Guru(Prakashraj). Priya falls for him too and when Guru realizes this, he offers Thiru money to dump Priya. Thiru chooses money over love and breaks up with Priya.

Considering the unbelievable nature of the romance between Dhanush and Sridevi in Devadhaiyai Kanden, the sweet romance here is a pleasant surprise. Dhanush is very sincere as he woos Shriya and some of his techniques make the eventual romance easier to accept.

Thiruvilaiyaadal Aarambam proves that even if a movie is chockfull of familiar elements, a small twist in the screenplay is all that’s needed to help avoid it look stale. For a while, the movie leads us along the very familiar path of a poor boy-rich girl romance where the girl has a brother opposed to the romance. But in the key – and again, very familiar – scene where the brother tries to buy the hero’s love, the movie twists things by making Dhanush accept the money. So instead of seeing the hero refuse the money and give a lecture on love, we see him take the money and give up his love. This invigorates the movie and the momentum gained is enough to keep us involved through the rest of the movie.

The movie has a consistent undertone of humor that helps keep it entertaining. There are few scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny but the movie manages to keep us smiling throughout. Whether Dhanush is being berated by his dad or professing love to Shriya or going up against Prakashraj, things are handled with a humorous touch. A number of lines are funny and some of the wordplays would make even ‘Crazy’ Mohan proud. This humor makes us view the cinematic or even silly happenings less seriously.

Dhanush squaring off against Prakashraj is the main part of the movie but here it is more bark than bite. Dhanush’s plans, when he clashes with Prakashraj, usually have a good build-up and make us anticipate something clever. But the finishes are usually weak and belie the build-up. In some cases, they don’t make much sense considering the number of loopholes in them. But the aforementioned humor, along with the good pace, help overlook the lack of substance.

I’m not sure if it was intentional now that Dhanush is related to Rajnikanth but the movie reminds us of many other Rajnikanth movies at several points. While the Dhanush-Prakashraj clashes naturally take us back to the enmity between Rajni and Satyaraj in Mr.Bharath(the Ennammaa Kannu… remix is a nice touch since it tells us that the director realized the similarities too), a number of individual scenes seem designed to remind us of similar scenes in famous Rajni movies. But these sequences are handled with some subtlety so that the movie doesn’t come off looking like a rip-off.

After a few initial movies where he proved that he had talent and took roles that he could fit into, Dhanush got too ambitious in Sullaan as he wanted to become an action hero. That proved to be his undoing and nothing he did after that worked. Here he once again picks a role that fits him perfectly. He is very casual and comedy comes to him naturally. He creates a likeable hero and the mix of action and comedy works. Shriya looks pretty but is relegated to the background after the first half since the movie’s focus turns to Dhanush and Prakashraj. Prakashraj is solid as usual, giving his character the right amount of seriousness to avoid the movie becoming a full-length comedy. Karunas, Mouli and Saranya are adequate and the boy playing Dhanush’s brother has some very funny lines that he delivers well.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Big Sur - Solvang

As I mentioned when I wrote about the incomplete Hearst Castle-Big Sur trip in July, the glimpses of the coastline on that trip only served to strengthen my resolve to visit Big Sur again for a more detailed trip. But I didn’t think that would happen so soon. We (along with 2 of our friends) visited Solvang, which is about 4 hrs south of the Bay Area, over the holiday weekend and went there via Highway 1. It turned out to be a trip where the destination as well as the ways to and from it, were wonderful.

On Highway 1, our first stop was Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the most well-known park in the Big Sur valley. The park, with a creek running through it, was very pretty but since seeing the waterfalls required a 40-60 minute stroll which we didn’t want to take, our stay there turned out to be very short. Instead we continued driving and went to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This park has a wheelchair-(and hence stroller-) accessible trail that takes us via an underpass under Highway 1, to offer wonderful views of the coast. Adding to the beauty is McWay Falls, a beautiful waterfall that falls down to the beach (the beach itself is not accessible). From there we continued driving on 1 without any more stops and so were able to hit Pismo Beach for a gorgeous sunset. We reached Solvang the same night.

We headed out to Cachuma Lake, which is about 10 miles from Solvang, the next morning. Here we spent time walking around the lake and the kids had a lot of fun feeding the ducks and looking for other birds. After lunch and a brief stop for a view of Bradbury Dam, we visited the Mission Santa Ines, a very old (it was built in 1804) church. The inside of the mission had a lot of history in the form of paintings, dresses and books from the 17th century while the garden behind was really pretty. We spent the rest of the day walking around Solvang, which is called the Danish Capital of America. It was warm enough to make us hanker for ice-cream and so, we had a fun time exploring the cute town with its European-style buildings and unique shops (one shop Del-Sol, had items like t-shirts, hairclips, hairbands, etc. that change color when hit by sunlight!). Once night fell, the city was all lit up for Christmas and looked even prettier.

We stopped at an ostrich farm the next morning before heading back north towards home. We first stopped at Morro Bay, whose landmark, the huge Morro Rock rising out of the sea, had caught our eye when we were driving to Solvang. After some debating on the route to take, we again opted to take Highway 1 from there.

This time we stopped at Limekiln State Park, which I'd read had a nice waterfall. But what we got was far beyond our expectations. The 0.5 mile-long trail to the waterfall winded through a redwood forest and the scenery was spectacular. The trail also required crossing a river at several points and while some crossings had bridges, the others had to be made by stepping on rocks, planks and not-so-stable logs of wood. With me carrying Karthik and my wife leading Kavya along, these crossings turned out to be quite adventurous! Limekiln Falls at the end was definitely nice but after the wonderful hike, it was anti-climactic. The drive on Highway 1 after that was a dream come true for a scenery-lover like me. The sun gradually setting on the horizon provided some amazing views for the whole drive and we finally stopped at 1 point to watch the final minutes of the sunset. Spectacular!

Lotsa wonderful sights, great company, perfect weather, few crowds, less traffic... trips just don't get much better than this!

Photos from the trip can be seen here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dining and Dancing

We recently went to Kan Zeman Restaurant in Palo Alto and had some Mediterranean cuisine after a long time. Its situated right on University Avenue(with parking conveniently nearby) and is a good place for a night of dining and (belly) dancing.

The restaurant has a good vegetarian selection, which is an important criterion for any restaurant we go to. I had the Vegetarian Magluba, which was really tasty and not too heavy either. My wife had the Falafel Plate while Kavya started with some yummy Lentil Soup and then had a bit of both our entrée’s. We wrapped up dinner with some very tasty Baklava.

They have belly dancing every night and though the restaurant is not very spacious and the dancer had to squeeze herself between the tables, she put on a good show. Kavya and her friend (who was responsible for Kavya not being her usual, shy self) joined the dancer and repeated some of her moves with the other patrons cheering. It was really cute watching the two of them on the floor. Karthik, for his part, never took his eyes off the dancer the entire time she was on the floor. I guess her colorful dress and the clinking of her jalras really caught his attention. He started crying if she came too close but otherwise was completely enraptured by her. It came to the point where some of the patrons were looking at him rather than the dancer and laughing at the way he was staring at her(his perennial drooling didn’t help matters either!).

All in all, a fun night for the entire family...

Harry Potter VII...

...finally has a name - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Pretty creepy, in keeping with the darker overtones each book has had over its predecessors. Can't wait!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Billa 2007

The trend of remaking old classics has finally started in Tamil cinema too. It now seems official that Ajith will be starring in the remake of Rajni’s Billa (which, btw, was a remake of Amitabh Bachan’s Don, which, incidentally, was recently remade into a new Don starring Shah Rukh Khan. Whew! So, in Visu style, the new Billa is going to be a remake of a remake, which was a remake of a film that was recently remade!). The producer has bought the rights of the original and Rajni too has given the go-ahead to Ajith (and shared his thoughts on the remake).

I just watched Shah Rukh Khan’s Don and though I haven’t seen the original Don with Amitabh Bachan, I have seen Billa and so could make some comparisons. Like most Hindi films these days, Don is slick and stylish. It maintains a fast pace though it feels choppy at times as it shifts between different tracks. The action sequences are well-executed(though I did notice lifts from several Hollywood flicks) and green being the predominant color gives the film a cool, sophisticated look. On the story side, the updates are done well considering the times and the technology advances. So the red diary becomes a CD, the circus performer is now a computer expert, etc. Some new characters and twists are introduced and though they make the screenplay complicated and a tad confusing, they do make the movie unpredictable - and so interesting - even for those who have seen the original.

Apart from Ajith, the other key persons currently attached to the ‘Billa 2007’ project are director Vishnuvardhan, the director of Pattiyal and Arindhum Ariyaamalum, and music director Yuvan Shankar Raja. These choices do make me have high hopes about the project. Ajith can definitely play the cool, suave and ruthless Billa well. And the effeminate behavior he exhibited so well in Varalaaru, if toned down, can help him in the role of the paan-chewing, roadside dancer. Pattiyal has convinced me that Vishnuvardhan is one of the more stylistic directors around and he is capable of providing the stylish look that a remake will require, to differentiate it sufficiently from the original. And Yuvan's thumping, high-energy score for Pattiyal proved that he can provide the perfect score for Vishnuvardhan's stylish filmmaking.

Now, I’m curious about the rest of the cast. I think the heroine role will be the toughest to cast. The heroine here is the strong and silent type and needs to kick(or atleast, seem as though she is capable of kicking) some butt. I’m not sure any of our 3 leading heroines (Trisha, Asin and Nayan) can carry it off. I can’t imagine any of them being convincing executing martial arts moves or riding a bike. So maybe Ileana? But Nayan would be perfect for the Helen/Kareena role – a special appearance where she gets a nice seductive dance number. Just depends on whether she’d agree to do another item number. If egos don’t get in the way, Maddy might be a good choice for the ‘Thengai’ Srinivasan/Arjun Rampal role. But considering Prabhu’s recent choice of roles, he might be in the running too. I’m just hope that none of our usual, overacting supporting actors like Karan or Sriman get cast in the key role! Prakashraj is an automatic choice for the K.Balaji/Boman Irani cop role. He is one of the few supporting characters who can pull off a policeman role convincingly. And Pooja might be a good choice for the Isha Koppikar role.

Since the movie's gonna start rolling in March 2007, thala will probably be singing My Name is Billa... for Diwali '07. Should be interesting...

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Bald and the Stylish

The latest tidbit about thalaivar's Sivaji is that Rajni has shaved his head for the climax. Ever since I read the news, I was wondering how he'd look and whether I'd have to wait until April 14th to find out. Thanks to fellow Rajni rasigan Filbert who sent me the above pic, I got an early look! The bald head, the beard, the coolers and the suit... must say he looks really stylish. Only thalaivar can make even bald look cool :-)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gautham Interview

Bharadwaj Rangan has written about a long, very interesting interview with Gautham, the director of Minnale, Kaakka Kaakka and Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. Rangan always lets the person do the talking, with only a few comments here and there. So we get almost a monologue by the person instead of the usual, restrictive Q & A format. That's the way he has done it with Gautham too and it has led the director to open up about a lot of things.

Some interesting tidbits from the interview...

Gautham Menon had to drop the Menon from his name since the Minnale producer said that there was something against Malayalis in the Tamil film industry!

He talks a lot about his next film Pachaikkili Muthucharam, with Sarathkumar (who is cast against type) and Jo. He calls it an adaptation of Derailed but the book and not the movie(hope the book was good then since the movie sucked!). He did want to do it with Kamal first but approached Sarath after Kamal said no. He explains the very poetic title as pearls falling off and scattering being similar to what happens in life when someone comes in and scatters the lives of a happy family. He calls it a "Balu Mahendra-meets-Quentin Tarantino kind of film.”

He apparently labelled at least one leading actor as “stupid” and said another star’s films are “idiotic.” Wish Rangan could tell me who those actors are :-)

He worked as an assistant director to Rajiv Menon in Minsaara Kanavu.

His original script for Minnale was very different and was about 2 friends falling for the same girl. He now calls the film juvenile and cliched!

He approached Maddy, Ajith and Vikram for the lead role in Kaakka Kaakka. Turns out it was Jo who recommended Surya to Gautham. He is interested in making a trilogy of cop films and says he may make a third film with Vikram in the future.

Kamal is probably the most experimental among our heroes today. But Gautham says he had to make concessions for Kamal too in Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. He wasn't even there when they shot the sequences for Uyirile... and Neruppe...!

He says his appearance in his films so far was because of circumstances and that he may not make it a trend.

He gives a broad outline of Vaaranam Aayiram, his next film with Surya. Looks like it might be a message-oriented film with patriotic shades.

Friday, December 15, 2006

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Prathi Gnaayiru 9 Mani Mudhal 10:30 Varai, Rendu and Veyyil are now online @ bbreviews.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


After Kaadhal and Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi, Shankar’s S Films has deservedly earned a reputation for delivering quality films that come as breaths of fresh air in the Tamil cinema market. Naturally, its next production Veyyil comes with high expectations. While the film is neither as gripping as Kaadhal nor as path-breaking as Imsai Arasan, it keeps S Films’ reputation intact by being a realistic, emotional film about two brothers whose lives traverse radically different paths.

When Murugesan, an avid MGR fan, gets caught bunking school and going to the movies, his father punishes him severely. He runs away and though his intended destination is Chennai, he ends up working as a projectionist in another village. A grown-up Murugesan(Pasupathy) falls in love with Thangam(Priyanka), the daughter of a hotel owner, and all is well. Meanwhile, his brother Kadhir(Bharath), who has started an advertising agency, is leading a happy life, landing accounts of growing importance and establishing a love-hate relationship with Meenakshi(Bhavana). But Murugesan’s life suddenly takes a turn for the worse and he decides to return to his family.

The film’s barebones story actually has a lot of similarities with Vijay’s Sivakasi (the first shot when Pasupathy returns to Virudhunagar is filmed in exactly the same way!), which goes to show how much a director’s vision and handling decides the quality of the end product. With the same theme of a runaway son returning home to his family, director Vasanthabalan fashions a character-driven film about the son’s desire to fit in and the family’s problems in accepting him.

Like Autograph and Azhagi, Veyyil follows starts off portraying a fun-filled rural life. With the wonderfully picturized Veyyilodu Vilaiyaadi…, it shows the children’s life filled with fun, films and first loves and is sure to make one nostalgic thinking of those years (the song sequence and its lead-in, a pambaram game, show that the director has a nice sense of style. Unfortunately, the growing emphasis on emotions restricts the opportunities for more such stylistic touches in the rest of the film). Films play a major part in Pasupathy’s life once he runs away. The theater is his world and the projection room, his house. His romance with Priyanka has a number of interesting vignettes revolving around films (like her appearance covered in film rolls after he disrobes her). And its nice the way Vasanthabalan uses movies and their stars to indicate the passage of time.

My biggest problem with the segment where Pasupathy grows up is that it is redundant when you look at the big picture (pun intended!). It stands completely alone with none of the happenings there, affecting him after his homecoming. He learns nothing that helps him later and none of the characters reappear in his life. It works fine as an independent segment but in a film, we expect, if not every scene, atleast a segment as big as this to have an impact on the movie as a whole. And that doesn’t happen here.

Emotions take centrestage once Pasupathy returns home. What makes the proceedings interesting is the fact that each person in the family reacts to him differently. Their reactions are guided by how they felt when Pasupathy ran away. Bharath’s affection is a result of his guilt (as revealed by the number of times he tries to tell Pasupathy that he was not the one who told on him), their father’s anger is a result of the troubles he went through as a result of Pasupathy running away and their sisters’ indifference is natural considering they never knew Pasupathy. And the result of their reactions is not always expected. For instance, it is ironic that it is Bharath’s genuine affection that stifles Pasupathy (like in his new job) while his father’s anger and sisters’ indifference probably keeps him going since they give him something (like earning their love) to work towards.

Since the movie is a flashback and we’ve been following the growing enmity between Bharath and his competitor, the story becomes quite predictable towards the end. But the way some of the scenes have been picturized(like some of Pasupathy’s wishes coming true but not in the way he would have wanted) make them surprisingly emotional.

Pasupathy proves once again that he a reliable character actor. His face isn’t too suited for romance and some of his expressions with Priyanka seem a little comical. But he is perfect as he yearns for love and affection from his family. He is able to look realistic even in some of the overly sentimental scenes. Bharath is full of energy and makes us laugh with his short temper while Bhavana looks cute and fits the timid role perfectly. Their romance offers the only light moments in the emotional second half. Shreya Reddy earns our sympathy with the way her life has turned out(especially since the girl who plays her in her younger days has a very alluring face and smile) though her character reminds us of the role Nandita Das played in Azhagi.

Kaadhal Neruppin… is superbly picturized. Vasanthabalan proves that a song sequence can be visually arresting without resorting to foreign locales, expensive sets or a large number of group dancers. The narrow streets of Virudhunagar, with some everyday characters providing the backdrop, proves to be a great setting for the song. Uruguthe Maruguthe… also impresses with some romantic, unhurried picturization. Ooraan Thottathila... reminds us of Annaathe Aaduraar... and the puliyaattam in the middle of the song doesn't help either. But it does help Bharath show off some of his dancing prowess.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Favorite Rajni Performances - I

Chakravarthy - Nettrikkann

The director who has worked with Rajnikanth in the most number of films is S.P.Muthuraman. While the majority of these were masala flicks that were instrumental in creating Rajni the star, his offbeat films(like Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri, Aarilirundhu Arubadhu Varai, etc.) gave Rajni varied roles that revealed the actor in him. The best of these roles - and my favorite Rajni performance - is as businessman Chakravarthy in Nettrikkann.

The role of the rich man, who has lost none of his libido with age, is a fantastic creation and Rajni digs into it with relish. Each of his conquests is interesting and his style and class makes him a believably charismatic, rich man. He has a terrific leer and uses it to full effect. Inspite of all the women he beds, he still loves his wife and with some subtly emotional scenes, Rajni makes that believable too. The best part of the performance comes later though. Rajni is at his villainous best when he realizes that those around him are playing him and tries to get at the truth. He is chillingly ruthless in the scene where he alternates between slapping Lakshmi and asking her to get his things. And no other actor could deliver a line like "Nee Yuvaraja-na Naan Chakravarthy-da" with as much panache!

Comedy, villainy, emoting, style, charisma... this is a role that requires all of them and none but Rajni could have pulled it off so successfully!

Happy Birthday Superstar!

Favorite Rajni Performances - II

Kaali - Mullum Malarum

To director Mahendran goes the credit for giving Rajnikanth one of his best and most memorable roles. Kaali, the winch operator in Mullum Malarum, is a role tailor-made for Rajni. It is a complicated character whose affection for his only sister is matched only by his ego and arrogance and the role fits Rajni like a glove.

Rajni always shines in characters displaying affection, whether directed at his mother, father, brother or sister. I've noticed that his otherwise-rough face softens amazingly in such roles. He is terrific here as he attends to Shobha's every need(the whole marudhaani sequence is awesome) and his tender conversations with her are very sweet. We see another side of him in his meetings with Sarathbabu and his irritation and dislike are brought out in every action. For a combination of both those sides, see how well he displays his pride when Shobha runs back to him in the climax. And for an actor never considered a good dancer, his uninhibited dancing for Raman Aandaalum... is a treat to watch.

Favorite Rajni Performances - III

Parattai - 16 Vayadhinile

While earlier Tamil Cinema villains(created by actors like Nambiar, P.S.Veerappa, etc.) were hated by the viewers, Rajnikanth, I think, was the actor who created villains who people actually liked. In that sense, he was truly a trendsetter. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in Parattai, the character he played in 16 Vayadhinile. Doing so, he created one of the most memorable and charismatic bad guys to ever grace our screens.

In 16 Vayadhinile, Rajni plays the bad guy casually and effortlessly. Dispelling the notion that a villain needs to stare and shout out threats to be threatening, he almost underplays the villainy and ends up being more effective. Even when he is joking around with his friends or commenting about Kanthimathi (with the legendary "Idheppadi Irukku?" thrown in for good effect), we can see that evil is lurking just beneath the surface and could come out any minute. Note the scene where he repeatedly calls out to Kamal when Kamal ignores him to see how expressions, body language and voice modulation help transform him from casual villain to scarily evil right before our eyes.

Favorite Rajni Performances - IV

Alex Pandian - Moondru Mugam

With the role of the rough-and-tough inspector Alex Pandian, Rajni set the standard for all future roles of the honest cop in Tamil cinema. The honest policeman who doesn't bow down to those in power is one of the staples of Tamil cinema but Rajni made it stand out with his performance and I think it is safe to say that it hasn't been matched until today.

With a slightly hunched back, fast walk and piercing stare, the role is a classic. His fiery dialogs with Senthamarai are now legendary and his rapid-fire, stylish delivery made them instant classics. Without giving up any of the roughness, he still managed to convey his love and affection for Rajalakshmi at home. If there is one complaint about the role, it is only the fact that it is too short!

Favorite Rajni Performances - V

Annamalai - Annamalai

It is easy to dismiss Annamalai as another of the movies from the later stage of Rajni's career, where the star eclipsed the actor. But the movie provides the perfect mix of the star and the actor, which is why it is my favorite Rajni film.

Rajni is mindblowing in a role that gives him a lot of opportunity to display a wide range of emotions. The innocence and naivete of the milkman in the first half is contrasted wonderfully with the maturity and seriousness of the industrialist, whose sole goal is revenge on Sarathbabu. Rajni displays his comic flair effortlessly in scenes with Kushboo, with laughs peaking in the Kadavule Kadavule... sequence (his expressions as the snake crawls over him are priceless - note particularly the yelp when it crawls down!). He bristles as only he can in the encounters with Vinu Chakravarthy and Sarathbabu when he delivers his challenges and is completely believable as an affectionate dad when he advises his daughter calmly but gets increasingly exasperated as she rebels against him.

Happy Birthday Rajnikanth!

Happy Birthday to Rajnikanth, the one and only superstar…

Each of thalaivar’s birthdays is cause for celebration but this birthday is a particularly memorable one for all us fans for 2 more reasons. Chandramukhi, which has been breaking existing records and creating new ones ever since it was released, has just crossed 600 continuous days at a single theater! And Sivaji, thalaivar’s next blockbuster and the movie with the best chance of breaking Chandramukhi's records, is just a few months away. With no new stills since that flurry of pictures - both official and unofficial - a few months back, the excitement keeps growing…

Last year, I celebrated thalaivar's birthday by listing my 5 favorite Rajni scenes. These were scenes that celebrated the (super)star in him; scenes that presented a larger-than-life Rajnikanth doing what he does best; scenes that, atleast for me, were worth the price of admission for those movies. This year, I’m gonna look at the actor in him. So, during the day today, I will be counting down my 5 favorite Rajnikanth performances of all time.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Coming Soon - Veyyil

Actors, actresses, directors, music directors, cinematographers... I've looked forward to movies because of all of them. But its been awhile since I looked forward to a movie because of its producer. And the producer is the reason I can't wait to watch Veyyil, which is releasing tomorrow. With his previous 2 productions, director Shankar proved that he is a producer with the Midas touch and things do seem to be in place for him to make it a hat-trick with Veyyil.

Both Kaadhal and Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi were incredibly risky ventures. While the former was a realistic love story released at a time when candyfloss romance was more popular, the latter was a historical comedy - a genre never previously attempted in Tamil cinema. The directors weren't proven hit-makers either. Kaadhal was directed by Balaji Sakthivel, who had only an average hit in Samurai earlier, while Imsai Arasan... was the first film for Simbhudevan, a cartoonist-turned-director. But Shankar backed both films and reaped deserved rewards at the box-office. It is this record of backing risky but quality cinema that raises hopes about Veyyil. The film is directed by Vasanthabalan and one hopes that he too justifies the faith Shankar has placed in him.

The film's cast inspires confidence also. Bharath is definitely one of the more promising actors among the youth brigade and he has an impressive resume so far. He has grown as an actor since Boys and has slipped easily into a variety of roles. He is joined by Pasupathy, who has grown from being a villain to a very good character actor. If the impressive trailer is any indication, the movie is set in Virudhunagar and primarily revolves around these two. Bharath has Bhavana to romance while Shreya Reddy, fresh off a spirited performance in Thimiru, gives Pasupathy company.

The movie introduces G.V.Prakash, A.R.Rahman's nephew(his was the boy's voice that sang the opening lines of Chikubuku Chikubuku Rayile...), as music director . He has lived up to his illustrious uncle's reputation with a solid, even if not spectacular, soundtrack. Most of the songs, like Veyyilodu Vilaiyaadu... and Ooraan Thotathula... have a rustic touch that makes them catchy in a folksy way. Kaadhal Neruppin... and Urukuthe Marukuthe... prove that Prakash is no slouch when it comes to melodious duets either.

Veyyil is usually associated with drought. But one hopes that this Veyyil ends the drought of good Tamil films this year.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Of Parents and Children

The news these days is full of murders and deaths and on any given day, I think 'bad' news items far outnumber 'good' news stories. Though one can never become completely immune to such bad news, we do get desensitized to a certain extent when we read the same kind of news again and again everyday. But then one story comes out of nowhere to get to us such that the feelings it evokes are almost physical. Today's news of the death of a San Francisco man in Oregon was just one such story for me.

To recap, the man, his wife and 2 kids aged 4 and 7 months had been missing for a week after a Thankgiving vacation in the Pacific Northwest. The wife and the 2 children were finally found 2 days ago and search continued for the dad, who had gone on foot to find help. Tragically, he was found dead today, 7 miles away from his family. Maybe it was the fact that I've been following the story since the beginning; maybe it was the fact that 2 children were involved; or maybe it was the fact that the wife and children being found alive led me to hope that the man would be found alive too. Whatever it was, the news story about the man's death made me feel pretty down today.

I, for one, can't even start to imagine the hardship the family went through to even survive more than a week in those brutal conditions. But in its own way, the story is an example of the bond one shares with one's family. Having only limited food supplies, the mom nursed her 2 children and kept them alive while the dad braved the cold to try and find help so that his family could live. That's what family and parenting is all about, isn't it?

May his soul rest in peace...


And now for the other end of the scale... you all know that one of my pet peeves is parents bringing their children along to films unsuitable for their young minds (here's my earlier rant on the topic). My trip to see Dhoom 2 last Saturday night was proof that our North Indian counterparts are just as bad(or maybe even worse) when it comes to this.

Nights in the Bay Area these days are really cold and this was a 9pm show. Still, the youngest kid that I saw at the theater was probably 4 months old. He was bundled up and sleeping but is it really necessary to bring such a young one to the theater? When we're told that babies are not supposed to be exposed to loud noises, is Dhoom 2, with its techno score and heavy beats and loud music, really a good choice for a 4 month old?

But the worst was yet to come. About half hour into the movie, there a pretty loud and audible thud as a kid apparently fell to the floor. Having raised 2 kids, I'm quite sure that the noise I heard was the kid's head hitting either the seat in front or the floor. The child obviously started crying very loudly. But the mom did not take him out of the theater or even stand up! She kept consoling the child(while, I'm guessing, continuing to watch the movie), rubbing the kid's head and asking the child to stop crying. One of the first things one has to do when a small child falls is to check for bumps or bleeding. How the hell can she check for those in the darkness of the theater?! Is it too much to ask that she go out to the lobby where there is light so she can make sure her child is OK?


Desperate Blockbuster

Each attempt by Blockbuster to bring in additional customers seems sillier and more devoid of logic than the previous one. In its latest attempt that smacks of desperation, customers who bring in the address label from their Netflix covers, can get a free rental at a Blockbuster store! I tried hard but I'm unable to come up with the reasoning behind this announcement.

The address flap is something torn off and discarded from the Netflix envelope and so the customer loses absolutely nothing as far as Netflix goes. He has to get a Blockbuster membership for the free rental but the membership is free and gives Blockbuster no additional revenue. Also, the offer requires that the person who wants a free rental be a Netflix customer already. In order to get a free rental, one has to drive to the Blockbuster store to rent and drop off the DVD and this will simply reinforce the fact that getting DVDs in the mail is way more convenient!

Blockbuster's past attempts were anti-Netflix but didn't make much of a dent in the company. This time around, Blockbuster's plan may actually end up helping Netflix! So its easy to guess that for Blockbuster, this measure will be the equivalent of shooting another blank at Netflix.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dhoom 2

Dhoom 2 is all style and no substance. But it is further proof, if ever it was needed, that style, when used right, can make the lack of substance less of an issue.

Dhoom 2 is a heist movie. The focus is on Hrithik and though he is on the wrong side of the law and has the good guys after him, the movie’s high points are his well-orchestrated heists. The movie is more about how he robs stuff rather than how the cops chase him. So there is no shortage of thrills or stunts. The movie is very stylishly shot with exotic locations, slo-mo shots, multiple camera angles, split screens and a techno score. So it is bright, fast-paced and energetic. It slows down occasionally but it is never dull.

Unfortunately, the heists are also the segments where the lack of substance is glaringly obvious. The fun in watching heists onscreen lies in seeing both the planning and the execution. We see how things are going to be done, then how things go wrong and then how they are overcome. Here we scarcely get a glimpse of Hrithik planning his operations. And the stylish and high-energy picturization fails to obfuscate the fact that the heists are completely implausible. Key parts of the logistics of each operation are never shown(because there is no way they could have happened) and all the heists consist of blatantly impossible steps (like using a mini-crane to grab a jewel while a bunch of policemen are on watch just a few feet away).

While one expects the climax to provide the biggest jolt, the last heist ends up being really weak. After all the build-up and the planning, the actual heist is lame and the director cheats by not even showing the actual robbery. And what’s with all the training Hrithik talks about putting Aish through? As far as I could see, all she needed to do in the entire operation was put on make-up and walk on her knees!

The stunts and chases that follow the heists are terrific though. Hrithik's escape on roller-skates and the final chase with Abishek and Uday on bikes are thrillingly picturized. Special-effects and wire-fu techniques are nicely integrated and some stunts, like Hrithik-Aish's leap from the cliff, are dazzling.

The superficial nature of the heists extends to the romances too. The romance between Hrithik and Aishwarya is never remotely convincing and its surprising that two good-looking people can make such a bland couple. The 2 big one-on-one scenes between them lack passion and come off funny rather than sexy, passionate or emotional. Abishek is never given a chance to romance while Uday Chopra is used as a comedian, going after anything in a skirt (or in this movie’s case, a bikini). But he does elicit a few chuckles.

Hrithik looks dashing and carries the role off with aplomb. His screen presence has definitely improved and his swagger isn’t overdone. His dance skills are breathtaking as usual in both Dhoom Machaale… and Dil Laga…. Abishek could sue the director for sidelining him so much but he manages to hold his own in many places. He does surly and serious very well and has some good lines. He looked like he was a good dancer in KANK but looks awkward dancing for Bheege Bheege… here. Aishwarya actually seems to be becoming a worse actress with each new movie. She is plastic and irritating and her stiffness and artificiality are the main reasons that the romance with Hrithik doesn’t work. Thank God she looks hot! Her costumes are the skimpiest she’s ever worn and she looks great in some of them(she doesn’t carry them all off well though). Bipasha Basu was apparently brought on board only she has the perfect bod for a bikini. She does nothing of note after a slam-bang introduction and is relegated to the role of a comedienne in the second half.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Peek at Dasaavathaaram

After the initial publicity stills that were released when Kamal's Dasaavathaaram was launched, I haven't seen photos from the highly anticipated movie anywhere else so far. So the photos from the sets of the film, on Mallika Sherawat's website, came as a pleasant surprise. There are 3 photos, apart from the one above, here [link courtesy an anon who commented here].

A couple of surprises... One, Kamal looks really young and it looks like he's lost quite a bit of weight. And two, Ms. Sherawat is fully clothed in all of them :-)

Friday, December 01, 2006

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Vaathiyaar, Kizhakku Kadarkarai Saalai and Sivappadhigaaram are now online @ bbreviews.