Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hey Ram!

Regular bbthots readers probably know Ram as well as they know me. One of the earliest bbreviews readers, he has been a regular reader and commentor here too. It should've been pretty clear from his comments that he is a huge Kamal fan. Ram went to India last week (as clear from his lack of comments for last week's posts!) to get engaged. Couldn't have gotten himself a better engagement gift as he went to a restaurant with his fiance and ran into none other than his favorite actor. A dream come true for him...

Ram goes to India for a week, goes to a restaurant and runs into Kamal. I go to India for 3 weeks, go to a restaurant and spot the thaathaa who reads Kumgumam(or is it Dinakaran?) in those TV ads. Life just isnt fair!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The phrase 'realistic movie' usually raises visions of a sad or violent film that doesn't take a familiar masala route when dealing with familiar issues. But director Radhamohan proved in Azhagiya Theeye that a realistic movie can be made by focusing on the brighter side of life too. And he does it again in Mozhi. With down-to-earth characters facing everyday issues, he fashions a movie that is sweet and charming and offers a wonderful, welcome change of pace from the loudness, violence and glamour of Tamil movies today.

Karthik(Prithviraj) and Vijaykumar(Prakashraj) are keyboard players who score background music for movies. Karthik falls in love with Archana(Jyothika) and learning that she is a deaf-mute only strengthens his love. Understanding that Archana is against love, he decides to become her friend first and Archana's friend Sheila(Swarnamalya) paves the way for that. But for Karthik, the path to Archana's heart proves to be a bumpy ride even after that.

Mozhi comes as an antidote to viewers sick of the glamor and violence in Tamil cinema. The subtlety of the humor, the cleanliness of the romance, the down-to-earth nature of the characters - all these come as a relief in the current atmosphere of larger-than-life heroes, bloody violence, loud comedy, glamorous romance and over-the-top sentiments. Mozhi's first scene, from a 'regular' film about a rich girl-poor boy love story, shown under the pretext of Prithviraj and Prakashraj scoring music for it, almost seems like Radhamohan's way of telling us "this is how Tamil movies usually are. Now see how different my film is gonna be!"

Radhamohan has a wonderful knack for mining humor out of normal, everyday situations and that is Mozhi's biggest strength. The film does have its share of fights, sadness and sentiments but it keeps us smiling through all of that. This may be because of the good naturedness of its characters or the humorous lines or the explicit gags but the fact is, we keep smiling. Almost everyone has atleast a couple of lines that make us laugh(maybe because of its unexpectedness, I laughed the most at a line uttered by Jo's grandma to Brahmanandam, about a prospective suitor he previously picked for Jo) and most importantly, they make us laugh without seeming to try too hard. There are also a few segments designed for laughs but surprisingly, these don't work as well. The punchline for these is clear long before and since there are no surprises, the impact is diluted and so, the resulting laughs are muted.

The four main characters populating Mozhi are likeable and when you have characters like this headlining a movie, it is no surprise that the movie itself ends up being likeable. Be it Prithviraj's sincerity, Prakashraj's frankness, Jo's self-confidence or Swarnamalya's eagerness to see the best happen for her friend, they are well-defined characteristics that help us quickly warm up to the characters. These four main characters are surrounded by a few other memorable characters and Radhamohan reminds us of the KB of old in the way he gives importance to even the smallest characters and makes sure they have a nice character arc in the little time they have.

Inspite of none of the characters having a bad bone in them, the movie's conflicts don't seem artificial or forced. There are two main conflicts and both make sense considering the backgrounds of the characters involved. They also lead to some of the best segments in the movie. Prithviraj's explanation of how Jo can contribute to his music and his pointed questions to Jo near the end both feature some wonderful lines. The climax is quite predictable and simple. It is short and realistic and in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film. But considering the delightful climax in Azhagiya Theeye where too the end was fully predictable, the ordinary climax here is a little disappointing.

In the line of directors like KB and Cheran, Radhamohan appears to be another director who is capable of exploiting the medium of cinema well. He has a number of deft touches(like the clever and hilarious ways he finds to represent the onset of love) that prove that pictures are worth a thousand words. And his imagination and sense of humor jointly provide a number of memorable segments (like Prithviraj's walk to experience the world the way Jo does).

I've admired Jo's growth as an actress but there never was any doubt that she was 'acting'. But here, for probably the first time, she is completely natural. Her expressions and body language as she talks with her hands are wonderful and the smoothness with which she does her sign language is a real surprise. She probably worked real hard at it and it has paid off. Its only when she has to show serious emotions like anger that the actress in her rears her head. Whatever the fate of the movie at the box office, as an actress, Jo is definitely going out on top. As he proved in Paarijaatham, Prithviraj has wonderful comic flair. He is very expressive and has a natural charm that makes most of his jokes work. Prakashraj is a revelation. The actor, who lately has been stuck in villain and character roles, gets to do comedy here and he is excellent. He has a number of good lines(like his conversation with Swarnamalya near the end) which he delivers perfectly and shares great chemistry with Prithviraj(the sequence where Prakashraj narrates his proposal is one of the funniest in the movie). Swarnamalya makes good use of her comeback opportunity and does well though she mostly has to serve as foil to one of the other three. Baskar impresses in a serious role while Brahmanandam delivers laughs as the harried apartment secretary.

Songs are well-placed and Vidyasagar's melodious tunes and Radhamohan's picturization make sure they don't turn into cigarette breaks. The picturization of Sevvaanam Selaiyai... captures the spirit of the song and is fun (Jo gets to wear a lot of costumes in this and the split-second view of her in a police dress makes us wish she had gotten a full-length policewoman role). Kannaal Pesum Penne... takes the next spot with some imaginative and energetic picturization. Kaatrin Mozhi... is picturized perfectly on the foursome while Pesaa Madandhaiye... is suitably sober inspite of the unnecessary group dancers.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Oscars - 2007

After a year's break when I missed the Oscars, I watched this year's telecast yesterday. There were a few fun moments but on the whole, the program was a big bore. There was not a single moment that really stood out and Ellen's jokes, the acceptance speeches and the performances were all uniformly pedestrian.

The biggest reason to watch the show was ofcourse the eye-candy. Among the best lookers were Penelope Cruz, Kate Winslet and Beyonce. On the other hand, this is probably the first time I've been disappointed with Cameon Diaz's looks.

My favorite part of the telecast is always the opening sequence. They are usually funny and interesting and I still remember some of the earlier montages and Billy Crystal's entrances. But this year's montage, with clips of all the nominees, was dull and uninteresting. The entire program's about them. So why not leave them out of the opening?! With that montage, the telecast started off on the wrong foot and it went downhill from there.

Ellen was sweet and cheery as always but most of the jokes in her monologue were lame. Barring a couple of witty jokes (like the comparison between Jennifer Hudson and Al Gore), her collection fell flat. Her interactions with the audience(like the script to Scorcese and the photo-op with Clint Eastwood) worked a little better though. I really miss Billy Crystal!

I loved those shadow people creating images from the Best Picture nominees. Some of them, like the ones for Little Miss Sunshine and Snakes on a Plane, were brilliant. The chorus by the sound effects choir, that generated 'manual' sound effects for scenes from some popular films, was another segment that was good. The song-and-dance by Will Ferrell & Jack Black and the Celine Dion performance though were completely boring.

Al Gore, the butt of countless jokes for being boring, had probably the most interesting acceptance speech. Helen Mirren was dignified, Forest Whitaker was too emotional and most of the others were boring with just a bunch of Thank-You's. Among the presenters John Travolta had a good-natured dig at himself but not many others made any memorable comments.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Coming Soon - Mozhi

Mozhi has a few things going for it. Though a movie without a big hero or an established director, it has generated quite a bit of hype recently, mainly on account of Jo. It is releasing this weekend, making it 2 weeks in a row that I'll be catching my favorite heroine on the big screen.

The biggest reason to look forward to Mozhi is ofcourse Jo. This is the swan-song for the actress and if reports about her performance as a deaf-mute are to be believed, she is all set to make a big splash before her exit. She looks simple but great in the trailer and everybody at the audio release raved about her performance. With her marriage and a number of successful(both commercially and critically) films recently, she has been on a roll and if Mozhi too turns out to be a hit, she will definitely be going out on top. The rest of the cast isn't bad either. Prithviraj, who managed to avoid getting stereotyped after that superb debut in Kanaa Kanden, has acted in 2 hits so far and Prakashraj is always a reliable performer. Swarnamalya went nowhere after a dream debut in Alaipayuthey but could surprise us here.

Inspite of stumbling with Poi, which his guru KB directed for him, Prakashraj has a good track record as producer. He has produced small but different films like Azhagiya Theeye and Kanda Naal Mudhal and his risks have paid off since the films were modest successes and earned him a good name. Mozhi is another soft film from his stable. The director is Radhamohan, who gave us that little gem Azhagiya Theeye. In his follow-up Ponniyin Selvan, he seemed to struggle between his own simple story and the need to project a completely unsuited Ravikrishna as a regular Tamil cinema hero. This time he's back to Prakashraj, who has probably given him a free hand and so we can hope for another honest effort from him.

Vidyasagar and Vairamuthu have together delivered a fantastic album for the film. While the latter has written simple but imaginative lyrics for almost all the numbers, the former's simple melodies have let the meaningful words sink in without burying them under loud music and bad diction from the singers. Kaatrin Mozhiyil... sees Vairamuthu at his best as he finds mozhi in almost everything before stating that love needs no language (my favorite lines: uNmai oomaiyaanaal, kaNNeer mozhiyaagum; peNmai oomaiyaanaal, naaNam mozhiyaagum). After a long time, this is one song I'm listening to over and over again just for the lyrics. The other song that benefits from its lyrics is Pesaa Madandhaiye.... It sounds like its sung to Jo and Vairamuthu makes the most of the situation with some great lines (vaarthaigaLaal kaadhalithaen; jaadaigaLaal saagadithaai). Jassie Gift's unique voice makes Sevvaanam Selaiyai... a fun song. SPB, sounding as young as ever, sings Kannaal Pesum Penne... about a lover asking forgiveness from his gal. Looks like this song is being sung to Jo too and it has some fun lyrics (kaarappaarvai vaendaam; orappaarvai podhum). The bit songs like En Jannalil... and Aazha KaNNaal... make us wish they were full songs.

Inspite of the slowly-building hype, not much is known about the movie so far, including its genre. Lets hope it turns out to be a pleasant surprise and a big hit. If nothing else, Tamil cinema's cutest actress deserves a great send-off :-)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pachaikkili Muthucharam

When looking for a film to remake from, Tamil cinema directors usually look for films whose underlying story blends well into the Tamil milieu. So Gautham deserves credit for picking a film/book whose themes are not all that common in Tamil cinema. But in trying to mould the story to fit the image of the movie's lead actor, he turns the uncommon story into a rather common movie. Pachaikkili Muthucharam starts off strong, rooted in human emotions and relationships, but when it turns into a thriller, it derails(pun unintended)!

The film's background actually has a lot in common with Balu Mahendra's Julie Ganapathy. While both films appear to be remakes of English films, Gautham and Balu Mahendra have both said that their films were made from the original books (Derailed and Misery respectively) and not from the movies that were made based on those books. Both films are thrillers that present themes and stories that are rare in Tamil cinema. And both films contain commercial elements introduced in an obvious attempt to make them more palatable to Tamil viewers. But maybe because Gautham had less leeway with his lead actor, his films ends up being the more cinematic one among the two.

Venkatesh(Sarathkumar), a medical representative, leads a happy, contended life with his wife Kalyani(Andrea) and son Nandha. The couple's life is turned upside down when Nandha is diagnosed with diabetes. Kalyani takes the news a lot worse than Venkatesh and her life begins to revolve around Nandha. Venkatesh begins to feel neglected and at the same time, strikes a friendship with Geetha(Jyothika), a woman he meets during his daily commute to and from work by train. A mom herself, Geetha has her own share of problems, one of which is a jealous husband. Venkatesh and Geetha go as far as renting a room at a beach resort but a rowdy (Milind Soman) who breaks into the room, complicates matters.

Gautham handles the relationships in the film with such an assured hand that it is almost a disappointment when the film shows signs of turning into a thriller. Sarath's family life is good and the wonderfully picturized Un Sirippinil... portrays the fun and happiness that is necessary to serve as a contrast to the hard turn his life takes later. The difficulty of having a sick child and the pressures it imposes on the parents are conveyed well inspite of being shown with restraint. Same goes for Sarath's relationship with Jyothika. The initial coming together of two people whose life has made them yearn for companionship and the tentativeness(more from one than the other) as it transforms into something more serious than a friendship, are captured wonderfully.

Watching Pachaikkili Muthucharam, we get the feeling that Gautham films some sequences the way he wants, is plagued by insecurity as to whether it is acceptable to viewers and then introduces something that abides by the conventions of usual Tamil cinema. But in a film offering something different, that sequence is more damaging that it would be if placed in a regular, commercial film. This happens a lot more as the movie moves towards the climax but the Unakkul Naane... song sequence in the first half is the first hint of things to come. After being realistic and gripping until then(in a scuffle with a couple of auto drivers, Sarath throws punches but then holds his hand in pain, bleeds and runs away! Has any other Tamil hero done that?!), the song sequence, with its awkward lead-in line, bright dresses and weirdly-costumed extras, stands out awkwardly and is a big dent in the sober tone generated until then.

The film turns into a thriller once Milind Soman makes his appearance but the big surprise that the film, which managed to be gripping when it was a family drama, starts slowing down after it ups the action. There are one too many twists and some of them aren't even explained clearly. Not surprisingly, it is the quiet scenes, like the one where Sarath confesses to Andrea, that stand out even amidst the action-packed second half. But the Kaadhal Konjam... song, inspite of being a superb number, feels unnecessary.

In the battle between Gautham's storytelling and Sarath's image, the latter comes out on top towards the end and a lot of the goodwill earned thus far in the movie is lost. Some of Sarath's actions and even fights are understandable. After all, he is a man who has been taken for a ride and is determined to save his family. Its easy to believe that he can push himself a little more when pushed into a corner. But the film crosses the line between that and him being a regular Tamil cinema hero. As he bashes up rowdies single-handedly, its almost as if Gautham handed the camera over to the director of one of Sarath's commercial movies like Arasu or Aei. And having seen him run away after a fight, get tied up and beaten less than an hour ago, the contrast is jarring.

After a long line of masala films that ranged from the bad to the not-so-bad, it is initially difficult to accept Sarathkumar in the down-to-earth role. But he overcomes it with an underplayed performance. The performance itself is nothing special but coming from him, it is a pleasant surprise. Jyothika seems determined to make us miss her once her last film comes out. She looks great inspite of being decked up to look like a gypsy and gets to display the entire spectrum of emotions in the role. Its almost like the climax was created to bring out a new facet of acting that she has not shown so far. Andrea is a perfect find. A nice mix of modern and homely, her performance strikes all the right notes. And she's got a great smile. Milind Soman is the usual Gautham film villain - crass, crude and heartless.

Harris Jayaraj comes up with a superb soundtrack for Gautham all the songs sound great. Taken along with the movie, the aforementioned Un Sirippinil... and Karu Karu Vizhigalaal... take the top spot. The latter plays in the background and makes us wish Unakkul Naane... had been employed the same way too. Kaadhal Konjam... is picturized well but just comes at an inopportune moment.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mottai Babe!

The brief marriages, the incessant partying, the bare-all photographs. And now this! I really feel sorry for her 2 kids...

Friday, February 16, 2007

4 New Reviews

Reviews for Poi, Thaamirabharani, Pori and Deepavali are now online @ bbreviews.

That makes 9 movies seen so far in 2007, with none earning more than 2 stars. Hope Pachaikkili Muthucharam breaks the jinx today!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Favorite Tamil Love Stories - I

Idhayathai Thirudaathey

No surprises here! Whether in a film about religious strife, terrorism or a girl in search of her identity, Manirathnam's romances have always been a class apart. While he has expressed his mastery over portraying all emotions, I think he is at his directorial best when portraying romance. So when he does a full-length love story, there is no surprise that it ends up being one of the best in the genre.

We're all familiar with romances where one of the lovers is stricken with a fatal illness. But Mani gives the familiar tale a remarkable twist by giving both his leads incurable illnesses. In the midst of such tragedy, he fashions a love story that is both incredibly cute and touchingly emotional.

The tricks Nagarjun and Girija play on each other are very cute and vintage Manirathnam. Their playfulness is quite familiar to us from Mouna Raagam and Agni Natchathiram but their antics are fully enjoyable. Once we know that Girija's days are numbered too(the intermission shot, where Girija strikes a mock dead pose, is one of the numerous unforgettable images in the film), the difference in the pair's attitudes towards life is brought to the fore. Their romance gains an urgency and their scenes have a new maturity as they are two people who know what's coming. And while most directors try to wring the tears out of us given a chance, Mani finishes with an open-ended climax that works better than any other climax could have.

Manirathnam has always extracted the best from his music directors but I think Ilaiyaraja's contribution was the most invaluable in Idhayathai Thirudaathey. From the opening credits, the background score is an almost physical entity in most scenes and its impossible to imagine any scene in the film without its music. P.C.Sriram ensured that every scene was poetry on celluloid and watching the film was like seeing a series of paintings created right before our eyes. Girija was phenomenal and the combination of playfulness, practicality and pathos was irresistable.

Idhayathai Thirudaathey steals my heart every time I see it (and for the record, it is the film I have seen the most number of times!)

Favorite Tamil Love Stories - II

Poove Unakkaaga

Regular readers of my reviews know that I'm a big fan of feel-good movies. And Poove Unakkaaga is the only film that I can think of that ends as a feel-good movie inspite of not just one, but two, love failures. An ode to love from Vikraman, the resident feel-good director of Tamil cinema, the film succeeds in placing love on a pedestal that few other movies have managed to reach.

There's little romance in the first half as the film focuses on the feud between the two neighboring families. But there's no shortage of laughs as Vijay interacts with both families and tries to re-establish the friendship between them. In typical Vikraman style, his plans are simplistic but sweet and the families' actions as they try to bond with their long-lost grandson are hilarious. Sangeetha adds to the fun once she arrives and her tiffs with Vijay and Charlie deliver more clean, hearty laughs.

The film delivers a double-whammy at the intermission point and I remember being completely surprised by both of them. Its only then that the movie jumps into the romance between Vijay and Anju Arvind. It is a very sweet one-sided affair and Vijay's romantic acts perfectly reflect the actions of a boy hopelessly in love (I love the number that plays in the background in those scenes).

The film gives a new dimension to love by saying that a lover's happiness lies in seeing his lover happy, however it may make him feel. The fact that Vijay's actions to unite the two warring families are a result of his wanting Anju Arvind to marry her lover, gives his love a lasting, immortal touch. His monologue in the climax is one great line after another and makes a number of great points about the divinity of his love. As he walks off into the sunset, our heart is filled with admiration for him and his love. Sangeetha too maintains her dignity right till the end, instead of being transformed into a lovelorn girl rushing after Vijay.

Poove Unakkaaga succeeds in giving love the respect it deserves.

Favorite Tamil Love Stories - III


Tamil cinema romances - even the ones that end in tragedy - are usually lighthearted, candyfloss romances with emphasis on cuteness rather than realism. In this environment of cinematic romances and artificial feelings, the romance in Kaadhal is a real eye-opener. Presenting all facets of love without sugarcoating any of it, the film is a unique experience in the genre of romantic movies.

Watching Kaadhal is like watching the goings-on in our neighborhood. More real than a reality showand more candid than a Candid Camera episode, it feels like the movie is a result of the camera rolling as ordinary people go about their everyday lives. Bharath and Sandhya are two fascinating characters in the middle of this and so its no surprise that we become involved with their lives. We share their happiness when they are with each other, their sorrow as they struggle in the city and their dread as Sandhya's family catches up with them.

When it comes to movies, sadness always has a greater impact than happiness and so Kaadhal is at its most powerful when it throws the young couple into difficulties. The problems they face(and the solutions they come up with) are as real as they can be and movie serves as a realistic epilogue for all those movies that portray eloping as the solution for lovers in trouble (even the troubles faced by Madhavan and Shalini post-eloping in Alaipaayuthey seem cinematic after seeing Kaadhal!). Its only in the climax that the movie abandons its realism and what sounds like a very powerful climax on paper sees its impact diluted somewhat on screen(a big reason for this is Sandhya's overacting).

Among the romances in Tamil cinema, Kaadhal stands out as one of the most realistic ever.

Favorite Tamil Love Stories - IV

Kaadhal Koattai

Romance does not offer many opportunities for variation (boy and girl meet each other; they fall in love; the romance faces some roadblocks; they surmount it or commit suicide - thats pretty much it!). So any movie that offers something new within those boundaries automatically catches my attention. Kaadhal Koattai was one of the few movies that presented something completely new and unsurprisingly, went on to become a blockbuster and a true trendsetter.

While we've grown up on the concept of "love at first sight", Kaadhal Koattai threw that idea for a loop by making the hero and heroine fall in love without seeing each other. Just the freshness of that concept grabbed us and took us along as Ajith(for whom the film marked another comeback) and Devayani(in a career-defining role after playing a vamp in Sivasakthi) fell in love just through words. The concept of a love that "begins in their hearts and ends in their eyes" was fantastic and idealistic at the same time and paved the way for a number of other movies where love happened without the hero and heroine setting eyes on each other.

The film also had a climax that lived up to the fresh story. As Ajith and Devayani keep missing eachother, they really have us rooting for them and that is a sign of their romance involving us. I can't remember another movie that generated so much suspense when moving towards a climax that was a foregone conclusion. The suspense is ratcheted up with one lost opportunity after another and when Ajith finally pulls off his shirt to reveal the sweater that Devayani stitched for him, we really do get goosebumps!

With such a wonderful concept, it is frustrating that the supporting characters are so poorly etched. Heera is a caricature and some of her acts are irritating and silly. Karan too had a different philosophy but it was carried to such an extreme that it came off looking artificial and cinematic. Characters like Devayani's sister and brother-in-law and her suitor(no guesses for who plays the role- Raja!) were also artificial inspite of all of them displaying some unique characteristics.

Inspite of these missteps, the fresh story and scintillating climax make sure that Kaadhal Koattai occupies a special place my heart and in the history of Tamil cinema romances.

Favorite Tamil Love Stories - V


While full-length love stories are not all that common in Tamil cinema, mature love stories are really rare. But that alone doesn't make Rhythm stand out. It is an uncommonly soft, sensitive tale about a man and a woman who have both lost something but are living their lives deluding themselves that they don't need to fill the voids created by their losses. They do make each other realize the need to fill the void but the path after that realization is not all that smooth either. The relationship between Arjun and Meena starts off with friction and the way it transforms into friendship before blossoming into romance is portrayed beautifully.

Supporting characters play an invaluable role with Arjun's parents touching our hearts with their sadness at his lonely life. Their only goal in life is to see him happy again and they convey this clearly with just their looks and sighs. Lakshmi, though appearing late, is terrific as the mother-in-law who repents for her past mistakes and almost repeats them again(her confession to Meena is a superb scene). The boy playing Meena's son is likeable without being irritating like other child artistes and brings out his yearning for a dad in his life. Ramesh Arvind is delightful in a role that proved Vasanth could match Manirathnam in creating loveable characters and a subdued Jo was sweet.

My biggest grouse against Vasanth is that he wasn't brave enough to break Tamil cinema's tradition(we've seen the same thing in lesser movies like Ennavale, etc.) of the heroine being a virgin before marrying the hero. While Meena having a kid was a pleasant, convention-defying surprise, Vasanth meekly gave in to tradition by killing Ramesh Arvind before their first night and making the kid Meena's adopted son. That irked me more than the unnecessary fight and item numbers.

But inspite of those missteps, Rhythm definitely tackled a mature romance in a mature way and gave Tamil cinema one of its most heartfelt romances.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine's Day Special - 2007

Last year, I marked Valentine's day by listing my 5 favorite romances in otherwise non-romantic movies. I picked romances in movies where romance was not the main item on the agenda; movies that went on to other things. This year, I'll be more traditional and simply pick my 5 favorite Tamil love stories.

While romance has always been an integral part of Tamil cinema, full-length romances have not been not all that common. Emphasis on masala and action has limited the number of soft, romantic love stories in Tamil. But we've had our share of good love stories and tomorrow, I'll be counting down my top 5.

Let the lovin' begin...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Remembering 'Agni Natchathiram'

Bharadwaj Rangan has a great piece on Manirathnam. Instead of the usual dissection of Mani and his movies(with a couple of glowing lines about each of them), Rangan writes about how Mani made his best movies when he focused on Chennai(or atleast, Tamil Nadu) and how he seems to have diluted and compromised his art when he expanded his canvas to the whole of India. I couldn't have agreed with him more. But the pleasant surprise for me was the admiration for Agni Natchathiram that came through in the article.

I've always felt that Agni Natchathiram never got the respect it deserved. It is never spoken about in the same breath as, say, Mouna Raagam or Naayagan though it was released right after the latter and is usually little more than a footnote in articles about the director. But the film has always been one of my favorites and reading Rangan's article brought the memories flooding back. Hence this post...

I think Agni Natchathiram's biggest problem was that it was released after Naayagan. When you last made a movie that was widely considered one of the best Tamil movies ever, how could you ever live upto people's expectations with your next? People went to Agni Natchathiram expecting another Naayagan and obviously, that was not what they got. But I feel the film is a classic in its own right.

Agni Natchathiram's always been my favorite example for the power of the screenplay. A 1-line story about warring stepbrothers uniting to save their father was transformed into this sleek, stylish and energetic film solely because of Mani's screenplay. Realizing the flimsiness of the story, Mani concentrated on the picturization and presentation and it showed in every frame. The film's style was way ahead of its times and could stand up to any film today. It would probably rank as the film with the most number of slo-mo shots but every one of them oozed with style. Every meeting between Prabhu and Karthik positively crackled with energy and even the over-the-top climax was transformed into a thrill ride with those flashing lights.

Agni Natchathiram was also the film where Mani adopted the technique of a separate, unnecessarily vulgar comedy track(thank goodness it died a quick after two movies). Inspite of giving us a great, oft-used line("En Pondatti Oorukku Poittaaaaa!"), the track is the only black spot in the classic film.

Though my last viewing of the film was more than 5 years ago, I remember almost every scene vividly. Prabhu asking Karthik for his license after throwing it away; Amala's Oru Eli, Rendu Eli... self-introduction; Nirosha's blunt conversation with Karthik about her pregnancy; the bloodspray on the crying kid to show Vijayakumar's accident; the final broken piece of glass falling away after Karthik break's Prabhu's house's window... the film is just this great collection of memorable sequences. But I'm pretty sure that knowing all these scenes is still not going to spoil my next viewing of the film. Now that's the sign of a true classic!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

'Oram Po' Trailer

We're all familiar with the trailers for our Tamil movies. The worst ones are simply clips from all the songs but thankfully, we're seeing less of such trailers these days. Nowadays, the trend is to present a collection of short snippets from the film(a dance step here, a flying kick there, a comedy scene here, etc.). But since all our movies have their quota of songs, fights, sentiments, comedy, etc., these trailers end up not looking very different from one other. Barring the occasional Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu or Veyyil, whose trailers gave us a couple of lines about the story of the films, we are none the wiser about a film even after seeing the trailer.

But we finally have a Tamil cinema trailer that manages to stand out from the crowd! The trailer for Oram Po, the upcoming Arya-Pooja starrer, is a lot of fun and actually does a trailer's job of making us look forward to the film. The voice-over, which itself is something new for Tamil trailers, is fun and keeps us smiling throughout the trailer. Though the trailer tells us nothing about the story, the collection of scenes presented (like Pooja and her questions) is selected well to go along with the narration by the voice-over and for a change, we get to meet a number of characters from the film. Among the scenes presented, the auto race sequence looks very stylish and is probably the best part of the trailer. The collage of scenes at the end is also good and has good background music.

The film, by a debutante couple Pushkar and Gayatri, looks like a lotta fun. Lets hope it lives upto the expectations created by the trailer...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cinemakshari - 2

After a rather long gap, here's the second edition of the Cinemakshari contest. As in the first edition, your task is to complete the chain of 10 Tamil movie names below. Starting with the second film's name, the first word of each film’s name is some form of the last word of the name of the film above it (so, if a movie’s name ends in kaadhal, the next movie’s name could start with kaadhal, kaadhalan, kaadhali, kaadhale, kaadhalikka, kaadhalukku… you get the idea!). Unlike the last time, I'm providing the clues right away. Hope they are vague enough to make the contest atleast a little challenging :)

As always, solutions can be emailed to bbalaji [@] sbcglobal [dot] net (no answers in the comments please).

_______ _______ _______ (Visu film)

_______ _______ (Vijay film)

_______ _______ _______ (MGR film)

_______ _______ (Super actor + Super dancer)

_______ _______ (Chiranjeevi-Sridevi film dubbed from Telugu)

_______ _______ (Dhanush film)

_______ _______ (2000 multi-starrer)

_______ _______ _______ (2005 Love Triangle)

_______ _______ (Satyaraj film)

_______ _______ (Famous Sivaji tragedy)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Coming Not-So-Soon - Indiana Jones 4!

After enough rumors, crew changes, script rewrites and release date changes to put even our Tamil movies to shame, Indiana Jones 4 finally has an official release date. As expected, it will be a Summer release and will hit screens May 22, 2008. As in the previous 3 films, this one too will be directed by Spielberg and will star Harrison Ford in the lead role.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the only Indiana Jones film that I have seen on the big screen. I clearly remember seeing the movie at Madras' Casino theater (that was a story in itself. As the show was sold out the first time we tried, we ended up watching the Sivaji-Prabhu starrer Sandhippu at Shanti theater that day and then returned much earlier the very next day to be the first in line at the ticket counter for Raiders of the Lost Ark!). It was an enormously entertaining film that barely let us catch our breath as it zoomed from one adventure to the next. The rolling boulder sequence, the 'snakes in the underground cave' segment and the truck chase were just some of the scintillating scenes that left me dazzled. And ofcourse, the scene where Ford casually shoots the sword-wielding attacker was already legendary and would probably count as the most popular scene in the film.

The film was popular enough to make Indiana Jones an instantly recognizable name and so, not surprisingly, subsequent films were named after the character itself. I didn't much like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was too dark and too gross for me and the fact that it perpetuated very stereotypes about India didn't help. It had its own wonderful action sequences like the rope bridge sequence and the chase in the mines and had an effective turn by Amrish Puri but on the whole, the film got a thumbs down from me.

Spielberg made amends in a big way with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Including a hilarious Sean Connery as Indy's dad was a fantastic move on Spielberg's part and Connery and Ford shared great chemistry as their constant bickering never hid their mutual admiration and love for each other. It went without saying the film had great action sequences like the blimp chase and the tank chase(with a hilarious punchline). But the film also had probably the best climax in the series and Indy figuring out the clues and surmounting each level(especially the 'invisible' bridge), still makes me get goosebumps each time I see the film.

This Summer has enough movies to look forward to like Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Die Hard 4. But this news item about Indy 4 has already made me look forward to Summer 2008 to see Ford don the fedora and crack his whip again...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


While director Hari started off very strongly with Thamizh and Saamy, he did not live up to that initial promise with his subsequent films. Though he seemed to get back some of his old touch in Ayyaa, he definitely hit rock-bottom with the crude and violent Aaru. But he makes amends by returning to the village milieu in Thaamirabharani. He captures the lives of two families at war well enough though for us, the feeling of having seen it all before is unavoidable.

Bharani(Vishal) lives with his uncle(Prabhu) and thinks the world of him. The family's arch business rivals are Shakuntala(Nadiya) and her brother(Nasser). When Bharani thinks that Shakuntala's daughter Banu(Banu) is trying to make him fall for her as part of a bigger plan to besmirch his family's reputation, he plans to insult her. But the act has bigger repercussions that drive a deeper wedge between the two families.

Films set in villages always involve two warring families constantly trying to upstage one another and so the proceedings in Thaamirabharani have a very familiar feel to them as Prabhu and Vishal repeatedly clash with Nasser, Nadiya and Vijayakumar. The characters involved are all stock characters(the respected elder on the 'good' side, the villain on the 'bad' side who wants to keep the enmity festering for personal gain, the old woman who wants to see the families united, etc.) in such films too. So the film rarely presents something new.

Thaamirabharani is all about conflicts. With a large number of characters on either side, two or more of them seem to be fighting, either verbally or physically, most of the time. Though this makes the movie quite loud, it also gives the movie a lot of energy. We might simply be seeing different facets of the same conflict but things happen and so the movie moves along at a good pace. Some of the words thrown around in the arguments are raw enough to make us flinch but that adds some realism and provides a strong reason for the continuing enmity.

The big twist in the story doesn't come as a very big surprise considering the characters involved. But because of what it exposes, the rest of the story becomes quite predictable. We know exactly who will be still standing at the end of the film and in a film like this, that takes away a lot of the involvement. It also points to a tame ending that doesn't go too well with rawness of some of the earlier proceedings (again, as in Ayyaa, it is a toss-up between a violence-laden climax and a soft one and Hari has chosen the latter route). But the small revelation at the end is a good surprise and ends the film on a nice note.

'Ganja' Karuppu has now graduated to having his own comedy track but is annoying most of the time. The confusion that arises because of the dog sharing his name isn't funny the first time around and so, really irritates when it is used repeatedly. His segments unrelated to the use of his name(like the incident at the police station) don't fare much better and are silly and unfunny.

Vishal, not surprisingly, already seems stereotyped. He tries some comedy but it is not very effective and he really needs to work on it. No such problems with the stunts though as there are some impressive leaps and kicks scattered around. Debutant Banu is definitely on the flabby side and rumors about her looking the same as Nayantara are way off base. But she delivers a competent performance. Prabhu is dignified and the same goes for Nadiya. Nasser reminds us of Devar Magan in both getup and performance. Thaaliye Thevaiyilla... is a nice melodious number from Yuvan Shankar Raja.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fiction News

A couple of news items from the world of fiction...

- Sidney Sheldon passed away last Tuesday at the age of 89. The author would've definitely ranked very high on my list of favorite authors when I was in college. The first Sidney Sheldon book I read was Rage of Angels (which I think was the inspiration for the Satyaraj-starrer Makkal En Pakkam), which was serialized in Tamil in Kumudham. I started reading the serialized story but once the story gained speed, I couldn't wait a whole week to read the next chapter and ended up renting the original book. The strong characterization and fast pace caught my fancy and I quickly went looking for other novels by the author.

I wasn't disappointed with any of the other books I read and absolutely loved books like If Tomorrow Comes, The Other Side of Midnight and Master of the Game. His books always featured strong female protagonists and were unpredictable since you could never be sure if good would triumph in the end. I still vividly remember characters and whole sequences from his books that I read almost 15 years ago and that is testimony to how good they were. May his soul rest in peace...

- Just 5 months and 17 days to go for the magic to end! J.K.Rowling has announced that Harry Potter VII, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be released on July 21st. When I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in August 2005, I thought that the next instalment was almost 3 years away. So it was a very pleasant surprise to hear that it is going to be published in July, less than 2 years since I read the last one.

Rumors have been flying around for a while about what is going to happen in Book VII and they are bound to increase as the release date nears. The biggest one ofcourse is that Harry Potter himself will not survive at the end of it. J.K.Rowling has added fuel to the fire with her cryptic comments but the best reason I've heard for her killing off Potter is that it will categorically stop other writers from writing new books based on him and destroying her legacy. Other rumors involve Dumbledore's fate, answers to the eternal question of which side Snape if on, Aunt Petunia's role, etc. The countdown has started...

Friday, February 02, 2007

5 New Reviews

Reviews for Nenjirukkum Varai, Thagappansamy, Adaikkalam, Pokkiri and Aazhwar are now online @ bbbreviews.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Since Ajith's career graph has always oscillated wildly between periods of success and failure, Varalaaru's big success after a series of flops pointed to the beginning of another successful phase in the actor's career. But Aazhwar spoils those hopes and indicates that it was a very brief stop at the top for Ajith. It is a cliched revenge tale that, for the most part, is silly and amateurish.

Shiva(Ajith), who lives in a mansion, works at the Government mortuary. Asin, the granddaughter of the woman who runs the mansion, is intrigued by Shiva's serious nature and tries to woo him. Actually, Shiva is a vigilante who, disguised as various Gods, kills dreaded rowdies. Both the police and the rowdies try to find out who is eliminating the rowdies.

The romance between Ajith and Asin is developed with the seriousness that Ajith's story deserves. Considering the emotional baggage he carries, romancing and joking around with Asin would have seriously damaged his character and the director wisely avoids this. Ajith here is a man of few words and fewer smiles and this earns him our respect. No such luck for Asin though. Hers is a half-baked character whose love for Ajith has little basis and her lying doesn't help either. Eventually, her job is limited to indulging in some artificial conversations that serve as take-off points for the songs.

We've had more than a few revenge movies where the hero eliminates the bad guys while wearing some kind of disguises. But Ajith's godly getups here have to figure among the silliest disguises ever thought up. The sheer logistics involved in him wearing the costume and other accessories, putting on the makeup and moving around unnoticed are difficult to overlook. The line he utters "Kadavul... Naan Kadavul" lacks punch and comes off more like a cheap shot(at who, I'm not sure) for losing the role in Bala's Naan Kadavul. So the murders, intended to be thrilling affairs, end up being sequences of unintended comedy. Worse, the silliness isn't even consistent. The elimination of one of the most important bad guys is done with him out of disguise only so Keerthi Chawla can spot him walking out of the house.

When the hero is on a mission, his alter-ego is usually shown as timid or cowardly in order to differentiate his two personas and divert suspicion away from him. But Ajith here in his daily role is not much different either since he goes around bashing goons and saving interns from lecherous doctors. These sequences proceed without any real purpose and the happenings are actually confusing. The policemen on his track are thankfully not turned into comedians but their chase itself smacks of amateurishness.

Ajith's flashback manages to overcome the cliched and predictable nature of the proceedings to be quite touching. It presents a loving family with likeable characters but doesn't overdo it. Since the number of characters is limited, they do not become cardboard characters present solely to increase the body count. We come to know and like them and so their fates have an effect on us. More importantly, the flashback manages to minimize the silliness of Ajith's earlier acts since it provides quite a few valid reasons for Ajith's choice of disguises (and even his ineffective punch dialog).

Ajith finally looks handsome and healthy with neither the flabby look he had in movies like Ji nor the too-thin, haggard physique he sported in Paramasivan and Tirupathi. He is his regular self mostly and is likeably naieve and simple in the flashback. Asin looks great and shows her comic aptitude in a couple of places. None of the villains are around long enough to make a mark, with the main villain showing up only towards the end. Its nice to see Vivek after a long gap but he isn't given any standout material. A few funny one-liners and wordplays are all he manages. The duets fail to impress mainly because they are inserted so awkwardly and actually interrupt the film's flow. Pallaandu Pallaandu... is the only melodious song and is picturized in a deservedly soft, mellow manner.