Monday, December 31, 2007

1 New Review

Review for Rameswaram is now online @ bbreviews. That is the last review - and this is the last blog post - for 2007 :)

Friday, December 21, 2007

4 New Reviews

Reviews for Billa, Evano Oruvan, Kalloori and Oram Po are now online @ bbreviews.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Evano Oruvan

One man deciding to cleanse society off its evils has been a popular subject in Tamil cinema for a few years now. And its not difficult to see the reasons for its popularity. Corruption, atrocities in the name of bureaucracy and lack of civic sense are things viewers come across on a daily basis and so when the protagonist tackles these and brings about a positive change with his actions, it is easy to identify with him and cheer him on. Films like Indian, Ramanaa, Samurai, 4 Students and Anniyan presented this subject in a commercial format. Evano Oruvan tackles the same subject in a realistic fashion. That dose of realism works for the subject and allows us to identify with its protagonist even more and so it is unfortunate that the movie loses that touch of realism after a while.

Sridhar Vasudevan(Madhavan) is just one among the thousands of middle class men for whom life has settled into a routine. He is married to Vatsala(Sangeetha), has two children and works in a bank. A principled man, he is irked by the corruption that has crept into all walks of life. Things come to a boil when a tea-stall owner charges 2 Rupees more for a cool drink and that makes Sridhar embark on a crusade to correct the issues that he sees.

What separates the protagonist in Evano Oruvan from the heroes in those other commercial films(note that Madhavan here is a protagonist; Kamal, Vijayakanth and Vikram were heroes) is the lack of premeditation. Madhavan is frustrated by society and takes action but he doesn't have a plan in mind. The fact that his problems are realistic isn't surprising. What is new is that his responses to them are also realistic. He wants to change society but doesn't know exactly how. So his actions are born out of frustration and that makes him far easier to identify with.

The initial collage of scenes from Madhavan's life gives us a snapshot of his daily grind; the monotonous rut his life has fallen into. Only a few incidents that irk him(the issue with the water lorry, the school donation, the bending of rules at work) are actually illustrated but that quick rundown of his life helps us understand that he must have had many similar situations in the past, where his rigid stance and firm adherence to his own principles led to problems(Sangeetha mentions this in one of their conversations too). So when he finally snaps for a small issue at the teakkadai, we understand that it is not just because of that particular incident. The issues have been building up and that incident was just the last straw.

Though realistic and down-to-earth, the movie essentially follows the same narrative track as other movies with the 'man vs society' theme - Madhavan goes on a rampage after he reaches breaking point, unknowingly becomes a hero and is chased by the police. Madhavan's transformation into a kind of vigilante is short but understandable. His initial experiences give him the impression that resorting to violence does get him justice and so he gradually starts tackling bigger problems.

Unlike other films where the heroes go after men responsible for propagating the issue, Madhavan here has no set agenda. He doesn't go after anything in particular and corrects issues he sees on his way. For a while, this works. The things he encounters are natural and we are with him during his acts. But after a certain point, the director becomes over-ambitious. It becomes harder to believe the things Madhavan simply stumbles upon and so the events themselves fail to have an impact. The incident at the hospital and his stumbling on a drug operation are unconvincing and cinematic. Thankfully, the movie rediscovers its touch in the climax which is suitably low-key and manages to have an impact.

Madhavan plays a regular, middle-class hero just perfectly. He brings out very well his frustration at the way the system works and is sincere and convincing. His basic demeanor doesn't change once he turns vigilante and that is what keeps the movie grounded in reality even after the situations turn a little cinematic. And that is what makes even his grand monologue not sound over-the-top. Sangeetha is good as the housewife who just wants a better life and is frustrated when her husband's principled stand comes in the way. She is very natural when complaining to him or shouting at her kids. Seeman's strained dialog delivery and limited expressions seem a bit odd initially. But he does suit the role of the police officer who is torn between his duty and recognition of what Madhavan is going through.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Rajni's 1980 blockbuster Billa seemed like a prime candidate for an update. The combination of its strong story and racy screenplay, coupled with today's production values, seemed ideal for a present-day remake that had both style and substance. But this remake doesn't quite get it right. Its production values are top-notch but they can't inject enough energy to make up for the watered-down story and weak narrative.

Billa(Ajith) is a criminal who does it all - murder, drug trafficking, arms smuggling. He kills his enemies without batting an eyelid and doesn't think twice about giving his friends the same treatment when they cross him. Jaishankar(Prabhu) is the DCP hot on his heels but always a step behind and he gets some help in the form of Interpol officer Gokulnath(Rahman). But Billa doesn't have enemies just on the outside. Sasha(Nayanthara) joins his gang in order to kill him and avenge her brother's death. Jaishankar, with some help, finally manages to apprehend Billa, who dies in the DCP's car. Keeping his death a secret, Jaishankar gets Velu(Ajith), a pickpocket, to take Billa's place. Velu's task is to round up the rest of Billa's gang and unmask Jagdish, the top gun to whom Billa reports.

Having been exposed to more complex stories and screenplays, viewer sensibilities have changed and they are ready to think and absorb more. So when a director selects a well-known movie to remake, we hope that he retains the spirit of the original but still makes changes that surprise and challenge viewers familiar with it. So it is surprising that Vishnu Vardhan elects to dilute Billa's story to make it less meaty. He eliminates key characters, makes key sequences(like the one where Nayantara rescues Billa) rather uncomplicated and introduces plot points that actually reduce the suspense level(like the question of when Billa will be exposed in the My Name is Billa... number) in some key scenes. So the movie feels dumbed down and lacks pace and energy. That is always damaging but here, when one remembers an original that raced along with surprising twists and turns, it is rather fatal.

The movie certainly looks good. The cinematography, the desaturated colors, the costumes, the slo-mo shots and the pulsating background score create a movie that is sleek and stylish. It sometimes feels like Ajith is a model walking the ramp rather than a criminal on his way to a kill but the 'cool factor' is something missing in Tamil films and that is present in abundance here. Its this look that makes the movie work whenever Billa is in focus. Once focus moves from Billa to Velu, which is what happens when Velu goes on the run, opportunities to be stylish are not that many and this contributes to the lack of energy in the second half.

But actors too have an important part to play in a movie's look. Ajith looks dashing and Nayanthara looks great but Prabhu almost single-handedly brings down Billa's coolness. Everything about the actor - his portly look, his wig, his emoting, his dialog delivery - screams old-style and just doesn't gel with the modern look that Vishnu Vardhan is going for. And it doesn't help that he is given some absolute clunkers to mouth. Namitha too doesn't help matters. While the actress doesn't have as important a role as Prabhu, her figure-hugging dresses, mini-skirts and her dance steps make her look vulgar rather than sexy. When she shares the screen with Nayanthara, they look like the female version of Laurel and Hardy!

Vishnu Vardhan brings in a low-key touch that is a pleasant and welcome change from the loudness usually associated with Tamil cinema. Characters speak very little(though the movie could have used a few more one-liners) and sentiments are kept to a minimum. The lack of loudness is actually more evident in the action sequences. The hand-to-hand fight is rugged and feels real. The superb stunt on the aerobridge doesn't go over the top. And when Ajith's car pushes one of his pursuers' cars away during a very well picturized car chase, it just slides to the roadside and stops instead of running over a slope, flying into the air and exploding in a great ball of fire as its parts fall down!

While upgrading technology to keep up with the times is necessary, the screenplay has to be upgraded too to make sure that it works with the changes. The red diary in the original is now a pen drive but the events around it are still old-fashioned.When Ajith refuses to hand it over when asked or another character is thrilled after checking its veracity, its impossible to not wonder why someone couldn't have just copied its contents to another computer before giving it away. This - along with the fact that the climax is ripped-off from the Al Pacino-Colin Farrell starrer The Recruit - makes the entire last section of the movie feel dumb and dull.

Ajith is suitably endearing as Velu. He gets a lot of laughs during the training session with Prabhu and uses his body language and dialog delivery to distinguish convincingly between the two roles. His dance steps, particularly for Seval Kodi..., which is a very fast song, are noticeably slow and his back problems probably have something to do with that. Nayanthara looks gorgeous though that is pretty much all she has to do. The few sequences that actually gave the heroine something to do in the original have been cut out completely or watered down considerably here and so all she has to do is flaunt her now-flat abs and stroll around in bikinis and skirts.Rahman is solid while Santhanam mercifully has only a few scenes.

Vishnu Vardhan and Ajith may have intended this movie to be a homage to the original Billa. But it just ends up reminding us how good the original was in the first place.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Coming Soon - Billa

Its been so long since I looked forward to an Ajith film with so much enthusiasm. While the actor's past hits and fan following have made sure that every film of his has atleast some hype and expectations associated with it, its been a while since an Ajith film had me counting down the days to its release. But that's exactly what I'm doing for Billa, which is releasing tomorrow. The film's history, cast, technical team, photos, music and trailer have combined to generate a whole lot of expectations and its definitely the film I've most looked forward to since Sivaji.

Billa was one of Rajni's biggest hits and is considered a turning point in the actor's career. So naturally, the remake of the film made news from day 1. But unlike Naan Avanillai, the other recent remake of an old Tamil film, the names associatedwith this remake(I think Ajith, Vishnu Vardhan and Yuvan Shankar Raja were the first names linked to the remake) were promising and even exciting. So there were no concerns about the original being blemished.

I think Billa had a fantastic story and screenplay. The story of a mole among the villains, who eventually ends up on the run from both the police and the bad guys, was strong and the screenplay zipped along with superb pace and many twists and turns. The picturization may have aged and the cast may have been weak but I think the story and the screenplay stand up well even today. Thats probably why Vishnu Vardhan has said that he is keeping the basic story intact (Farhan Akhtar tinkeredwith the story for his Hindi remake and I'm not a big fan of the changes. The final twist was surprising at that moment but just doesn't stand up to scrutiny and makes many sequences - like the Khaike Paan Baraaraswala... song - meaningless). If in fact he is keeping the story the same and updating only the presentation, we can look forward to the film having both style and substance.

Billa gives Ajith the best chance of having a bonafide hit in a long long time. While Kireedam did restore some of the shine after the disaster that was Aazhwar, and Varalaaru before that brought him both critical and commercial success, the actor hasn't had a true blockbuster for some time now. I'm hoping that Billa is it. When I wrote about Billa before the rest of the cast had been announced, I said Nayanthara would be unsuitable for the heroine's role since it involved stunts. But the photos of her in that black, figure-hugging dress have made me eat my words(happily!). Slim and trim, she looks the part and I'm hoping that she looks convincing doing the stunts also. Namitha plays Billa's girlfriend in the villain's gang and inspite of claims that she lost weight for the part, the actress looks just as fat as ever. Prabhu plays the commissioner while Rahman plays the Interpol officer chasing Billa. I haven't seen any photos or news items indicating who is essaying the role played by 'Thengai' Srinivasan in the original but a commentor in one of the early posts said that it was Arun Pandian. I'm not too thrilled by the choice but its not a disaster either.

After working with directors like P.Vasu and Perarasu, Billa finally sees Ajith teaming up with a promising director.While Vishnu Vardhan had a disappointing start with Kurumbu, he surprised everybody with the slick, stylish and surprising Arindhum Ariyaamalum. His next film Pattiyal was one of my favorite films of 2006. Though it dealt with rowdies and dadas, it was very stylish, with the sequence where Bharath and Arya practise with guns in the water-logged warehouse being particularly exhilarating. Based on the trailer, he seems to have upped the style and sleekness quite a few notches in Billa. Inspite of style being present in movies like Pattiyal, Lee, etc., the movies were never as stylish and glossy as Hindi movies like Dhoom 2 or even Dus. At the very least, I'm fervently hoping that Billa ends up on par with those movies as far as presentation goes.

Yuvan has presented the old and the new with 2 remixes and 3 new songs in the album. The theme music is easily the pick of the album. It is very cool and the techno orchestration definitely raises visions of a stylish film. My Name is Billa... and Vethalaya Pottendi... have been remixed with modern sounds and new lyrics. As is usually the case with older songs, our familiarity with the old music makes it seem like the new music doesn't really gel with the song. It might just need more getting used to. Seval Kodi... is a generic song but some of the bits do sound catchy. Sei Edhavadhu... and Naan Meendum... are the my favorite songs in the album.

Let's hope this Billa turns out to be just as big as a hit as the older one and ends up as a landmark film in Ajith's career too...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 1

Raakkammaa Kaiya Thattu... - Thalapathy

Considering that Manirathnam is my favorite director when it comes to picturizing songs, the fact that this song sequence tops the list shouldn't come as a surprise. From the violin riff - and the camera that follows its pace - that starts it off, it is clear that this song is blockbuster material. The song has been choreographed targeting Rajni's strengths in dancing. His steps to the song's start are fantastic and those, combined with a couple of other shots(like the quick steps leading to a 'freeze' with arms bent and outspread), belie the fact that dance isn't among his strongpoints. The orange tint in the cinematography, the browns of the locale and the dancers' costumes all combine to give the song an earthy feel. The transition to kunitha puruvamum... at the end and the starting lines, now slowed down with the humming in the middle, are surefire signs of Ilaiyaraja's genius and Shobana's dance and Rajni's relaxed finger-clicking convey the changed mood perfectly. Rarely do all elements in a song sequence come together so well...

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 2

Adhiradikkaaran... - Sivaji

Shankar has always been known for mounting elaborate, imaginative song sequences but in the last couple of films, I was a little disappointed with the song sequences. The bright costumes, the exotic locales, the catchy songs... they were all there but something that could have made the sequences stand out was missing. But he reminded us just how good he is with this spectacular number that was one of the highlights of the movie. Like in his most successful song sequences, Shankar told a story rather than just picturizing a song. The location was splashy and colorful, the costumes were rich and glamorous and the choreography by Lawrence was dazzling as Rajni rescued Shriya from the masked villains. The last song in the film, the song rouses us as Rajni gives a gun a life of its own, stops a bullet in its tracks and mows the bad guys down with style. Chummaa Adhirudhilla!

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 3

Raman Aandalum... - Mullum Malarum

In his early years, no movie captured Rajni's rawness and rough-around-the-edges quality as well as Mullum Malarum and in the film, nowhere is Rajni more unreserved and charismatic than in this song. With his life at a low point and his hatred for Sarathbabu at its highest, the song's lyrics and his dancing reflect his devil-may-care attitude perfectly. He is completely uninhibited in his dancing and his body language and steps are like those of someone who has no care in the world. It is just impossible to not get into the mood and start dancing to this song!

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 4

Vettri Nichayam... - Annamalai

This rags-to-riches song gives us what we've been waiting for in the movie - Rajni becoming rich and taking revenge on Sarathbabu - and does so in crowd-pleasing(and ofcourse, fan-pleasing!) fashion. The song has great, inspirational lyrics and SPB sings it with a lot of energy and passion, making the sequence even more effective. While the first para features Rajni's growth, the best part of the song starts when the older, richer Rajni steps out of the car. The transformation from simple, naieve, fun-loving milkman to serious, driven businessman is evident right from that first moment. He oozes style as he strides in those suits and sunglasses, a cigar clamped between his lips. The scene where he stands casually while the press rushes from Sarathbabu to him and the one where he takes the cigar out before adjusting his tie are just pure style.

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 5

Raa Raa... - Chandramukhi

This is the only song on this list where Rajni appears for only part of the sequence and doesn't sing any part of the song apart from the interlude. Yet he is so arresting in that time that one just can't think of this as anything other than a Rajni song. From his appearance bounding down the stairs with dogs in tow, Rajni, as Vettaiyan, shows us what star power and screen presence is all about. His leery look, villainous smile and the Lakalakalakalaka... utterance make up a terrific, movie-rescuing turn. Jo did work hard and impress us with her dancing but its Rajni all the way in this song.

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 6

Maadathile Kanni Maadathile... - Veera

This is what I'd call a fun duet. A soft, romantic number, it is picturized in a very cute manner with the Jingu Jaangu Jingu... bit and a few touches by SPB giving it a fun feel. Rajni and Meena make a fine pair with great chemistry and their subtle but nicely choreographed steps manage to make us smile without making fun of their traditional attires. Rajni silently mouths his trademark How is it? early in the song and his imitation of a particular step of the other dancers is hilarious. For her part, Meena looks incredibly cute with her fluttering eye-lashes and fidgeting fingers.

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 7

Azhagu Azhagu... - Baasha

For an actor's fans, it is always nice to see their idol in different get-ups. With Rajni not altering his looks for the hero's role, it is only in the song sequences that one gets to see him in different guises. Director Suresh Krissna exploits this fully in this number, that sees Rajni in many get-ups under the premise that Nagma imagines him in those roles. The rowdy and traffic constable guises are particularly fun but the loudest cheers - and goosebumps - are ofcourse reserved for his appearance as a conductor, a delicious nod to his earlier profession. The scene where he twirls his glasses before wearing them, steps out of the car and walks with Nagma with his trademark fast gait is another pure 'Rajni moment'. Vairamuthu too goes all out in cheering for the Superstar as he writes Nee nadandhaal nadai azhagu; nee sirithaal sirippazhagu; nee pesum thamizh azhagu; nee oruvan dhaan azhagu...

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 8

Kaadhalin Deepamondru... - Thambikku Endha Ooru

If I were to list my favorite Rajni songs(as opposed to song sequences, where other factors like picturization come into play), this number would be closer to the top of the list. A melodious number soulfully sung by SPB, it is a lovely song that is a perfect ode to love. Rajni proves in this song that he doesn't need sunglasses, cigarettes or other props to be stylish. Walking with hands in pockets and just trademark sways of his head and shoulders, he is stylish yet suitably restrained as he sings this. The locations are pleasant and add to the soothingly romantic mood of the song. The only sore points are the usually-beautiful Madhavi's dress selection and vacant expression.

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 9

Unai Thaan Nitham... - Maappillai

This song is here more for nostalgia than anything else since I remember this as the first song that had Rajni execute fast dance steps convincingly. Until Maappillai came along, Rajni vs Kamal arguments usually had me reluctantly concede when it came to dancing. But after this song, I had something in my arsenal too. The song itself is rather ordinary but the picturization rocks. Rajni and a gorgeous Amala execute some nice steps(particularly in the police dresses and the white and yellow dresses) and after the start in the police dresses(which made sense considering the dialog leading upto the song), the color coordination between the sets, props(like the bikes) and the lead pair's dresses in each of the segments is very eye-catching.

Favorite Rajni Song Sequences - 10

Superstaru Yaarunnu Kaettaa... - Raja Chinna Roja

Its gaudy, its kitschy and its undeniably loud. But this song's first line also provided Rajni fans with their anthem - a slogan that is simple yet catchy, very true and instantly recognizable to this day. The thrill felt on hearing that line is enough to get this song on this list. Ofcourse the costume changes by Rajni (a couple of them nicely timed to the get-upa maathunga... line) are nice as always and the song is fast, colorful(with the exploding color powder and the raining confetti) and energetic.

Happy Birthday Rajnikanth!

Happy Birthday to Rajnikanth, the one and only Superstar...

As is usually the case, we fans have enough cause for celebration this year also. Sivaji finally released and fully met our expectations. Expectedly, it is a blockbuster and has just recorded 175 days, beating a number of records in the process. Thalaivar won the State award for Best Actor for Chandramukhi. And Sultan, the animation film based on Rajni, is only 6 months away.

This is the 3rd thalaivar birthday that this blog is celebrating. The first year, I celebrated Rajni the superstar by listing my 5 favorite Rajni scenes. Last year, I celebrated the actor in him by listing my 5 favorite Rajni performances. This year, I'm going to celebrate the entertainer in him. So today I'll be counting down my 10 favorite song sequences from Rajni films.

These are my favorite song sequences and not songs. So the dance, the picturization, the sets/locales and most importantly, the way Rajni has been portrayed, all play as important a part as the song itself. To lessen the suspense a little, the following are some of the runners-up: Raja Enbaar... (Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri), Thaazhampoove Vaasam Veesu... (Kai Kodukkum Kai), Oora Therinjukitten... (Padikkaadhavan), Raakku Muthu Raakku... (Ejamaan), Oru Koodai Sunlight... (Sivaji)

Let the music begin...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oram Po

Oram Po is a film in the same mould as Chennai 600028. It is based on a very local sport, it has an interesting group of characters and it tells its story with the same style and quirky sense of humor. Things don't come together as well as they did in Venkat Prabhu's debut film but they do come together with enough energy and fun to create an entertainingly fresh film.

Chandru(Arya) is an auto driver in Chennai. More rewarding than the wages he gets are the spoils from the illegal auto races he participates in during weekends. Bigle(Lal), a mechanic, and Chandru team up for these races and have been unbeatable so far. Itching to beat them is 'Son of Gun', a rival mechanic who has his eyes on Bigle's shop. Chandru falls for Rani(Pooja), a biriyani seller's daughter, not knowing that her parents want her to wed Bigle. Meanwhile, a dada's diamonds get lost in Chandru's auto and the dada's henchmen are looking for him.

Autos aren't very glamorous vehicles. They might be cheap, maneuverable and ubiquitous but they are not exactly stylish or graceful (which is probably why even Baasha, which lent an unprecedented level of respectability to autos and their drivers, did not feature an auto chase!). So the movie has a tough task of making the auto races interesting. But it does a good job with good help from the cinematography, editing and background score. The races aren't particularly thrilling or suspenseful but are picturized in an interesting fashion. But I felt the film reveals its cards too early. The first race is picturized in superb fashion with split screens, POV shots and slo-mos. But the directors have little such technical gimmicks left over for the remaining races - including the all-important final race - and so they seem a little repetitive and bare.

The movie exhibits an uncommon - almost offbeat - sense of humor in its characterization, picturization and script. This sensibility gives it a lot of energy and keeps us smiling throughout. Even simple sequences like a man obediently transporting a jar of marbles from Mumbai to Chennai or a duo looking for a particular auto driver are made interesting by the way they are picturized. And how often do we a see a song(Gun Ganapathy...) about a peculiar character who doesn't show up anywhere else in the movie but in that song?!

The 'Son of Gun' is one of those characters that can make or break a movie. Here he definitely 'makes' the movie. The film is filled with likeable characters(there is no real villain) but the 'Son of Gun' makes sure that none of them stay in memory. His dialogs(sample: paNam varum pogum... aanaa vandhaa dhaan pogum!) - as well as the way he utters them - make every scene he is in, a delight.

One of the tracks in the movie involves illegal auto races and betting. Another involves a dada looking for some diamonds he has lost. So it is surprising that the most serious moments in the film arise out of the romance. The heavier moments are a little jarring considering the light-hearted tone of the rest of the film. And its not like the romance needs the seriousness to get us on its side. The delightful earlier portions do that job very well indeed.

Nowhere is Chennai 600028's influence more evident than in the climax. Oram Po tries to adopt the same unusual approach, giving us what we expect but not exactly how we expect it and introducing a touch of irony into the proceedings. But it doesn't have the same effect that the climax of Chennai 600028 had. What was almost exhilarating there leads to a lingering sense of incompleteness and dissatisfaction here. The director duo's intention to make things different and surprise us right upto the end is laudable but this is one time when a more traditional, predictable and crowd-pleasing ending might have worked better.

The jury is still out on Arya as an actor. He is fine in the light-hearted scenes but finds the emotional scenes a bit tough to handle and fails to be convincing. Pooja doesn't really fit in in area the movie is set in. But she does make us accept her with a low-key performance. Arya and Pooja make a nice pair though. Lal is restrained and sincere as Bigle. But John Vijay is definitely the movie's find. His wide eyes, hand-gestures and leering dialog delivery make 'Son of Gun' a unique, memorable character. Idhu Enna Maayam... is a nice melody and is picturized well without make it an awkward duet. Kozhi Kaalu... is picturized in a manner and location that do justice to its fun tone and lyrics. Yaar Ivanai... is an unnecessary item number, rendered even more unnecessary since neither the dance nor the setting fits in with the rest of the movie.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

4 New Reviews

Reviews for Vel, Pollaadhavan, Kannaamoochi Enada and Machakkaaran are now online @ bbreviews.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Last Action Hero(es)

Schwarzenegger and Stallone were the action heroes I grew up with. Those were the times when explosions and guns ruled the roost and bulging biceps and one-liners carried the day. And nobody did it as good as them. Films like Commando and First Blood were films that made them action icons and they built on that image with a bunch of films that saw them single-handedly take on the world. I loved it!

Then came actors like Ford and Willis who were more average Joes who turned into action heroes only because the situation called for it. They didn't have the muscular physiques of Schwarzenegger and Stallone but made up for it with their never-say-die attitudes, laconic wit and sarcastic smirks. Films like Die Hard and Raiders of the Lost Ark heralded a new breed of action heroes who were, in a sense, more believable - they were heroes rather than superheroes.

Actors like Wesley Snipes could be called the action heroes of the next generation but they never became as big as the aforementioned stars. And special effects and computer graphics have taken centerstage today, effectively pushing out the traditional action hero. But as The Bourne Ultimatum and Live Free or Die Hard, the two most enjoyable action flicks this year showed us, watching chases and explosions and fights created the tradional way is just more fun than watching them being created on a computer.

Which is precisely why I'm looking forward to Rambo and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this year. Schwarzenegger is busy playing politics and Willis has moved onto more serious roles and it is doubtful if Stallone and Ford will be able to play these characters again. So these 2 films might well be marking the end of an era...

Sunday, December 02, 2007


With each new movie, it was becoming increasingly clear that with his first 2 films Thamizh and Saamy, director Hari had flattered to deceive. None of the director's subsequent films showed the spark or freshness evident in those films and he appeared to be stuck in a rut, recycling old plots and themes. His latest film Vel further underscores this. A film that is a throwback to old times in more ways than one, the only consolation is that on account of its lack of vulgarity and gratuitous violence, it is better than Aaru, the previous collaboration of Hari and Surya.

When one of their twin boys is stolen from them, the parents(Charanraj and Saranya) are grief-struck. The stolen child grows up in a village as Vetrivel(Surya), loved by the entire family that adopted him. The son who is still with his parents grows up to be Vasu(Surya), a private detective. Love blossoms between Vasu and Swathi(Asin), the hostess on a TV channel. One a trip to the village, Swathi spots Vetrivel and informs Vasu of his look-alike. Vasu is convinced that Vel is his brother and wants to bring him back home but Vel is unwilling to leave the family that raised him as their own.

Everything about the movie is old-fashioned. From the story about brothers separated at birth to the the long-winded dialogs spoken by Surya(he even rattles off a long dialog with rhyming sentences a la T.Rajendar at one point) to the overload of sentiments(father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt... if there's a relationship not touched by sentiments in this film, I can't remember it), the movie is an unabashed throwback to the 80s.

Vel marks the first time Surya and Asin have been paired together after Ghajini. But viewers looking for a repeat of the lovely romance from that film will be sorely disappointed. The romance here is shockingly chauvinistic(the take-off for the romance is when Surya rates her 'suitability' for marriage after comparing her to her friend and at another point, she says that a wife should give up her dreams and support her husband after marriage!) and under-developed and the couple exhibits little chemistry. There are a couple of situations(which still could've been exploited better) that get some smiles and some amends are made for the blatant chauvinism, but for the most part, the romance is weak and silly.

Whatever the complaints against Hari, one thing he can't be blamed for is crafting a slow film. He has always managed to deliver screenplays that keep moving forward without giving us time to think too deeply about the goings-on. That's what saves Vel too. Though the movie is about twins separated at birth, one of the oldest plot points in Tamil cinema, the story doesn't always proceed in the way we expect it to. Plot points that we expect will be dragged on(like the twins knowing about the existence of the other) are presented earlier than expected and plot developments, atleast upto a certain point, aren't always predictable.

Movies with heroes in dual roles usually have fun by presenting different characteristics in the two roles. It makes the movie interesting for the viewers and the actors welcome it since it gives them a chance to play different characters in the same movie. This was the tack followed in movies like Amaidhi Padai, Vaalee and Azhagiya Thamizh Magan. But there is no difference between the 2 characters played by Surya here. Both of them are good, fearless and honest - in other words, typical Tamil cinema heroes. So the usual plot point of making them switch places does nothing much here. There is not a lot at stake if their real identities are revealed and so the usual fun, excitement and suspense arising out of their mistaken identities is completely absent.

After all the hullabaloo about separated twins and mistaken identities, the movie comes down to the fight between Surya and Kalabhavan Mani. Hari goes into Saamy mode here as Surya relies on brain and not just brawn to bring him down. A couple of his techniques are good and its nice the way the professions of both Surya and Asin are used in his game.

Surya has no trouble playing the hero in this commercial outing. He has developed enough screen presence to carry off the aruvaal-brandishing hero role and delivers his threats with the forcefulness required. Asin looks cute as always but is barely seen in the second half and has only one scene of any importance. 'Kalabhavan' Mani is loud but rather ineffective as the villain. Vadivelu has a comedy track that, following the recend trend in his comedy tracks, mostly involves him getting hurt in imaginative ways.