Monday, March 31, 2008

The Kite Runner

Film adaptations never come close to recreating the feel or impact of the book they are based on. While this is true even of fantasy novels(Harry Potter) and fiction(Absolute Power), the difference is really apparent when the novel is a character-based narrative that thrives on emotions. That is what happens in the case of The Kite Runner, based on Khaled Hosseini's novel of the same name. It is a solid, perfectly acceptable adaptation of the novel that feels like it couldn't have been done any better but it still lacks the emotional impact and intensity of the book.

As I mentioned when I wrote about the book, "the story provides the opportunity for the characters to run through a gamut of emotions and Hosseini's talent lies in describing these emotions with great clarity". That lucid description of complex emotions is the strength of the novel and that is precisely the aspect that gets lost in the translation to film. Whether its Amir's guilt, his happiness at getting an opportunity for redemption or his father's pride, the effect of the characters' facial expressions and body language that are used to convey them just cannot match the power of the written word. It doesn't help that some sequences(including my favorite one, when Amir visits his driver's home and meets his children on his return trip to Afghanistan) that were admittedly outside the main track but still powerfully emotional, are omitted.

Though Hosseini's marvelously descriptive writing helped evoke images of what he was writing about, seeing it on the screen does make it more realistic. Well-nuanced performances and the realistic setting draw us into the lives of the characters. And having read the book turns out to be an advantage since many of the otherwise-ordinary lines("For you, a thousand times over") seem even more resonant. The movie works best after Amir's return to Afghanistan. The way the country has been transformed is tragic and the gloomy setting makes many scenes(like the ones in the orphanage and the stadium) rather unsettling. And the sense of dread when Amir meets Assef and the sense of urgency when he goes on the run feel very real.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thanks from Mark

As I mentioned, the question about the 70s B&W film about widow remarriage came from a reader. I passed on the answer(Oru Veedu Oru Ulagam) to Mark and this is what he had to say.

Hi, Balaji:

Thanks very much for the broadcast of my message and I thank your readers for the response. This is the movie that I was trying to recall. I am sure I got you and some of your readers off-track with my references to Kamal and K. Balachander. Now, I hope to find a VCD or DVD copy of this movie.



Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Bone Garden

Tess Gerritsen's novels have always been graphic, fast-paced and suspenseful. Whether she wrote about serial killers(The Surgeon) or human trafficking(Vanish), those were trademarks of her novels. Her latest effort, The Bone Garden, is more ambitious than her previous works as it is encompasses two different time periods and tries to provide a link between them. But unfortunately, the larger canvas doesn't make it a more interesting read. It is just as graphic but lacks the suspense and pace of her previous novels.

The story kicks off when a woman Julia finds a skull in the garden of a home she has just bought. While the accessories buried with the body suggest that it was buried in the early seventeenth century, the marks on the skull suggest murder. A relative of the house's previous owner helps Julia figure out who the mysterious woman is. So we learn of Rose Connolly, living in Boston in the 1830s, whose sister has died at childbirth, making her the caregiver for her niece. Rose soon learns that some people are looking for the baby and that its life may be in danger. Meanwhile, she gets a glimpse of the serial killer known as the Westend Reaper and Norris Marshall, a farmer's son who is studying to be a doctor, soon has reason to believe Rose's account.

While the novel starts off in the present and its the discovery of the skull in the present that is the jumping point to the events in the past, it is primarily set in the 1830s. There are regular flash-forwards to the present and the book ends with a weak attempt to link the past and the present but these feel unnecessary and more like gimmicks to entice readers who normally wouldn't pick up a book set in the seventeenth century. Gerritsen might have been better off making the book a period novel since the presence of the present leads us to expect a more substantial link between the past and present than what is presented.

The book succeeds in evoking the time period it is set in. With detailed descriptions of the people and the customs, Gerritsen takes us back in time to that era. While the graphic aspect of her previous novels came from murders and mutilations, here it comes from the alarming medical conditions prevalent during those times. Her depictions of the unhygienic conditions and unsophisticated procedures are pretty descriptive and not for the squeamish. But the whole 'Westend Reaper' track feels unnecessary and added just to keep up Gerritsen's reputation and classify the novel as a thriller.

We are as curious as Julia about the body she has stumbled upon and so we do keep turning the pages. And the identity of the body does come as a surprise. But the rest of the climax is disappointing and feels rushed. There is no clear closure about the Westend Reaper and the deaths of some of the characters feels unnecessary.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Vellithirai is a lot like Kireedam. It is a competent remake(of another Mohanlal-starrer Udhayanaanu Thaaram) that is quite faithful to the original but still ends up diluting its spirit and essence due to the uniquely Tamil constraints imposed upon it. This time the culprit is not a hero's image but the Tamil industry's lack of sense of humor as a whole. The film works as a drama and has a fantastic climax but with the noble intention of not stepping on anyone's shoes, it ends up neither as realistic as Kodambakkam nor as boldly satirical as Mahaanadigan, two other movies set in the industry itself.

Saravanan(Prithviraj) is an assistant director who feels he has written a script that only he, as a director, can do justice to. Mythili(Gopika), a leading heroine, is in love with Saravanan but is willing to wait until he gets his big break as a director. Kanniah(Prakashraj), who has been looking for a break as an actor for even longer than Saravanan, becomes Saravanan's roommate. When Saravanan goes to Hyderabad, Kanniah copies his script and pitches it a producer, under the condition that he has to play the hero in the film. Impressed by the script, the producer agrees to the condition. The movie turns Kanniah, now rechristened Dilipkanth, into a star and Saravanan, who now has another story, finds that he can't make his film unless Dilipkanth plays he hero.

Films set in the film industry are rare and so hold a special appeal since they give us a behind-the-scenes look at the industry. While we look at the glamor and the glitz of films everyday, such films give us a peek into what goes on in the background. Vellithirai too has this appeal. The stuggles of Prithviraj and Prakashraj show us the stark reality of how difficult it is to break into cinema. At the same time, the movie can almost be termed inspirational with some of its positive dialogs("there are no non-actors; just people who haven't gotten the chance yet") and its message that if one tries hard, one will definitely get that all-important break.

Udhayanaanu Thaaram worked as a satire on the Malayalam film industry and its stars with the script taking potshots at almost all the big stars as well as the workings of the industry itself. The inability of our Tamil cinema stars - and their fans - to take a joke has been showcased pretty clearly in the past and so director Viji understandably shies away from repeating that aspect of the original. So a major part of the film's appeal is blunted. A couple of throwaway lines(like on the longevity of our heroes and their affinity for titles) apart, the film plays it safe and leaves our heroes unscathed. Prakashraj, once he becomes a star, is pretty much a caricature and so his actions and dialogs are too over-the-top(asked what he would have become if he hadn't entered cinema, his response is to ask what would cinema have become without him!) to be realistic and considered as veiled attacks on our real stars.

There are no such complaints about the climax though. With Prithviraj suffering for almost the entire film and Prakashraj earning our dislike, the film makes us wait for Prithviraj to get his revenge. So it is delicious when he gets it and doubly so when he gets it in an intelligent, crowd-pleasing fashion. His plan is clever and it is nice that even after knowing Prithviraj's plan, we don't see all parts fall into place(with the help of some clever editing) until the very end and even if we are not as stunned as Prakashraj is, we are a little surprised too. Prithviraj's plan has been seen twice before - in the English original as well as in the Malayalam version - but it still hasn't lost its appeal and makes us cheer whole-heartedly.

Prithviraj is the perfect choice to play the good-hearted, idealistic assistant director. He is able to put aside the humorous side that we saw in all his roles so far and convey his passion and strong ambition of making it as a good director. But there are times, before the climax, when we feel he has underplayed his role a bit too much and is almost a doormat. Prakashraj bites into his character with relish. Characters who hide their villainy under a smile are always more easy to dislike and he uses that to full effect. Gopika looks surprisingly jaded, especially since she plays a top actress. I'm not sure if she acted without make-up or something like that but it hasn't worked. Lakshmirai makes a rather late appearance but gets to play an important role after that. Kumaravel is impressive as Prithviraj's friend while Baskar gets a few laughs as Prakashraj's manager. 'Jayam' Ravi, Trisha and Sandhya make cameo appearances. Uyirile... is a melodious number while Suriyanai... is an energetic number and is picturized with gusto on Prakashraj.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Actress Interview Handbook

Actresses have enough on their minds with the nervousness of facing the camera, being in the public eye constantly and hoping that their next film becomes a hit and extends their career. So all those interviews they have to give to the press just add to the stress. The more popular they are, the more carefully their words are analyzed and a single statement could put the brakes on their careers(or get women with brooms lined up outside their houses!). There are a number of books and cheatsheets out there with tips on attending interviews for other careers but none(as far as I know) that tell actresses how to attend these all-important interviews. So, to fill that void, here are tips for actresses on how to safely respond to the most common questions asked in interviews.

Who is your favorite actress?

What is your dream role?
Sridevi's role in Moondraam Pirai.

Will you do glamorous roles?
I don't mind being glamorous if the character demands it but I will not act vulgarly.

What about those sexy stills from your current film?
That is just 1 song sequence - or sequences - and it has been aesthetically picturized by the director.

Are you ready to do only glamorous roles?
One needs glamor to get one's foot in the door in Tamil cinema but after establishing myself, I will get more substantial roles that prove my acting potential.

What do think of actor X?
(If X is a senior actor) He is so popular but still simple and down-to-earth. I learned so much from him.
(If X is a younger actor) He is always teasing and playing practical jokes
He is quiet and doesn't talk much. He is a perfect professional

What about those rumors with actor X?
One has to be prepared for rumors when one enters cinema. But we are just good friends.
If he is married you can also add
I am good friends with his wife too and we laugh about these rumors.

What do you think about actress X?
There is no competition between us and we are very good friends.

Do you think you are the No. 1 actress?
I have no desire for a tag like that. When I quit, I just want to look back and be happy that I did many good roles.

How do you pick your roles?
Most important is the story and the scope of my role. They help me decide.

Tell us about your current film
(If it is a romance) It is a fresh and charming love story that is different from all love stories so far.
(If it is an action film) It is an action film but it has a sweet romance and I'm the pivot around which the story revolves.

Tell us about your role in the film
I play a bubbly, talkative, loveable character who is sure to be loved by everyone. It has shaped up very well.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

2 New Reviews

Reviews for Indhiralogathil Naa Azhagappan and Thotta are now online @ bbreviews.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ayan Launched

[Pics Courtesy Sify]

That definitely doesn't look like Surya in the first pic and I certainly wouldn't have identified the actress in the second photo as Tamanna, the girl from movies like Kedi and Kalloori. But those are who they are since these are two of the stills from Ayan, where the two are coming together for the first time. Apart from the leads, the film has quite an exciting team behind it. It is directed by K.V.Anand, who last gave us the good thriller Kanaa Kanden and has worked as the cinematographer for some high-profile films including Sivaji. Music is by Harris Jayaraj, who hasn't had a bad album in a really long time and who last gave us the fabulous Bheemaa. And the film is produced by AVM, who must've had their coffers filled to the brim after Sivaji.

After Ajith's Raju Sundaram-directed Aegan, I guess we can now add one more to the list of movies to look forward to in the second half of 2008.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

2 Questions

1. Saw the Amitabh-Rani-Salman-John Abraham starrer Baabul over the weekend. The title song below gives us glimpses of a bride going through the wedding rituals? She looks a lot like Shreya to me. Its been awhile since I saw Sivaji and so I think I'm past the every-actress-looks-like-Shreya effect :) So, is this really Shreya?

2. Got this one from a reader in an email and since I couldn't get it, I thought I'd pass it along since I know there are some real trivia buffs among the readers:
I am hoping that you will be able to identify the name of a movie that I saw in Chennai in the late 70s. The movie was about the struggle of a father-in-law trying to comply with tradition in dealing with his daughter-in-law (who lost her husband early in the marriage). The movie was black and white, and starred Kamal Hassan, who was trying to romance the widow. I think it was directed by K. Balachander. I am not sure if the actress was Shoba.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stone Cold

David Baldacci, after quite a few stand-alone novels, started two series almost around the same time. One featured the Camel Club, a group of four conspiracy theorists who get pulled into some high-level political games in Washington while the other featured the duo of displaced secret agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, dealing with lesser-profile crimes. While the latter series caught my interest more initially, the former has definitely grown on me with its stronger novels. Stone Cold finds the Camel Club, now expanded with one more partner, dealing with an age-old secret that has come back to haunt one of their members. Fast-paced and suspenseful, it upholds Baldacci's reputation.

Harry Finn is working for a company used by the Department of Homeland Security to discover breaches in the security of high-profile locations. But he is also on a personal mission to take revenge on a particular group of people and pretty soon, this leads him to Oliver Stone, the leader of the Camel Club. Meanwhile, Jerry Bagger is in pursuit of Annabelle Conroy who swindled him of $40 million (in The Collectors) and Stone takes it upon himself to save her.

Baldacci's plots have always been rather outlandish and that continues here too. Whether Finn's actions(like infiltrating high-security locations) as part of his job or the book's key plot point itself, things are routinely far-fetched and frequently implausible. Many of the story's aspects, like government assassins who are now targeted by their own ex-employers, also give us a feeling of deja vu. Things are also a lot simpler than in earlier books by Baldacci. There are multiple tracks but they are more straightforward and there are fewer characters to keep track of. But as always, Baldacci never lets the pace flag. By having multiple tracks, narrating the story from the points of view of many characters and revealing the suspense one piece at a time, he makes sure that we keep turning the pages.

A novel's job is half done with interesting characters and the Camel Club's leader Oliver Stone is definitely one. Almost superhuman when it comes to skills he honed during his life as a soldier, Baldacci presents him as a secretive, charismatic man who looks out for his friends. His action scenes are terrific and even believable since he is a one-man army. Annabelle Conroy comes a close second with her brainy cons, spunk and sharp wits. While she spends most of the book running away from Bagger, she has her moments, especially when she gets back to planning a con with her dad. With these two getting the lion's share of the book, the other members of the club get the short shrift but they do have their moments. Harry Finn is the newcomer in Stone Cold and the combination of an interesting job, a fascinating history, the secret mission and his other life as a devoted husband and father make him eminently interesting too.

Authors who have a series with multiple protagonists(like James Patterson with his Women's Murder Club series) usually resort to a plot device to shock us and reinvigorate the series. Its disappointing that Baldacci too resorts to this, especially since it is quite early in the series. The plot point does lead to an exhilaratingly visceral scene with Oliver Stone but still feels a bit needless. Another frustrating plot point used by authors(James Patterson is guilty of this too, especially lately) is the open-ended finish where the bad guys live to see another book. But Baldacci doesn't do this. The book looks to be headed that way but we get closure and in a very satisfying way that makes us close the book with a smile.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kuruvi Posters

[Pics Courtesy Maverick]

Vijay fans finally get something solid about their hero's next film with the above 2 posters officially announcing Kuruvi's arrival in a couple of months. At the same time, I'm actually pretty surprised about the lack of information on Kuruvi. With the Gilli team of Vijay, Trisha, Dharani and Vidyasagar coming together, one would've thought that the movie would have a lot of hype associated with it. But I haven't seen a single photo from the film so far and there are rarely any rumors about the film's storyline or cast, which is usually a good measure of anticipation about a film. Even the film's website has a lone still of Vijay from Gilli and nothing else. I'm hoping the hype builds up once the audio releases and as the film's release nears.

With Kuruvi's posters having the vague tag of Chithirai Veliyeedu and Dasaavathaaram officially postponed to May or even June, it looks like this Tamil New Year's movie releases are going to be even more lackluster than last year's. We'll probably have to settle for Yaaradi Nee Mohini and Arai En 305il Kadavul.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

RIP - Raghuvaran

With Raghuvaran's demise yesterday, we lost one of our finest and most popular character actors. With a style all his own, he played every role - be it maniacal bad guy or affectionate father - with elan. As a tribute to him, here are a few of my favorite Raghuvaran performances.

Poovizhi Vaasalile - Raghuvaran simply watched from a distance without getting his hands dirty but still scared us with his cold-heartedness as he relentlessly pursued a child. The otherwise-innocuous limp and cane somehow added to his character's evil.

Udhayam(Shiva) - He redefined villainy with his performance as Bhavani, the gang leader. He exuded menace without raising his voice or even scowling and his every expression and action was designed to add a little more to his psychopathic nature and utter ruthlessness.

Anjali - He was superb in the difficult role of a father burdened by a secret he hid from his own wife and children. Through his measured speech and patient actions, he made it amply clear that he was the family's emotional anchor and would help them sail through all their problems.

Puriyaadha Pudhir - When one talks about sadistic, suspicious husband roles in Tamil cinema, Rajni in AvargaL and Raghuvaran in Puriyaadha Pudhir are the two that spring to mind right away. Raghuvaran's snide remarks, delivered with his famous sneering smile, stung hard and his smooth, normal conversations right before exploding with anger at Rekha gave new meaning to the phrase "calm before the storm". His role was rather short but the physical and psychological abuse he put Rekha through made him utterly detestable.

Baasha - Mark Anthony is remembered just as well as Manick Baasha and that was due to Raghuvaran bringing his own touch to the otherwise cliched dada's role. He was terrific as always as the bad guy and bristled in the encounters with Rajni.

Mugavari - Another movie that revealed that he could play soft characters just as well as he played villains. He perfectly conveyed the affection he held for his little brother and touchingly supported his pursuit of his dream.

Run - Raghuvaran brought to comedy the same subtlety that he brought to villainy. Through just his actions and expressions, he made us laugh at the friction between him and his brother-in-law Madhavan. He wonderfully brought out the confusion at the actions of his wife and her brother and his silent, underplayed comedy was an effective counterpoint to Vivek's more overt comedy track.

He will definitely be missed. May his soul rest in peace...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Into The Wild

Movies based on true stories always have more of an impact on us. Whether its admiration, revulsion or any other emotion we feel for the movie's characters, they are more pronounced when we know that those characters exist(or existed) in the real world. Into the Wild is tautly paced, gorgeously filmed and well-acted but its the knowledge that it is based on a true story that makes it truly effective. One of 2007's best films, it is a poignant and powerful film about a brave and interesting individual.

Into the Wild documents the story of Chris McCandless(played by Emile Hirsch), who, after graduating from college, donated his college fund to charity and set off to Alaska, intending to live his life in the state's wilderness. The film lays out his life in two tracks interspersed with one another. In one we see Emile in Alaska, adapting to life in the wild while in the other, we see the journey that took him to Alaska. The contrast between these two tracks is enhanced by this technique. While he is surrounded by people - first his family and then all the people he meets on the way - during the journey, he is cut off from life once he reaches the Alaskan wilderness and is completely on his own. As we see scenes from both stages of his life, the contrast between them is striking.

Emile meets quite a diverse group of people during his journey and they are the ones that make those segments interesting. With his unique journey, its no surprise that he strikes up an instant rapport with the people he meets. The hippies, the enthusiastically funny European couple on the river bank, the grain harvester who runs some shady operations on the side, the lonely old man who warns him about losing his family - all these characters are well-etched and make a mark. During his life in Alaska, its all him. We see his enthusiasm and skill as he adapts to life there armed with just a book. And Emile's physical transformation(that reminds us of Tom Hanks' turn in Cast Away) plays a big part in making everything seem real.

Emile isn't really an admirable character since he is at best, eccentric and at worst, selfish. But he grows on us and so earns our sympathy easily. We feel for him when he finally realizes whats important in life and our heart goes out to him when he wishes to return but nature conspires against him. And the last scene is a telling shot that conveys how he has changed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Superstars - Episode II

As I mentioned after last week's opening episode, Sun TV's Superstars grabbed my interest enough to make me look forward to the second episode. The promise of watching interesting acting performances rather than the now-stale imitation of other actors and the idea that we could be watching the birth of a star captured my interest. So I watched Episode II on Sunday. While it didn't turn me away from the next episode, it didn't particularly thrill me either. The only consolation was that we got see more Simran than in the 1st episode.

After all those dramatic proclamations of suspense about the eventual big prize, it was rather anti-climactic when Vijay Adhiraj revealed the prize in the 2nd episode itself. As expected, it was the chance to play the hero and heroine in a film produced by the same production company that is behind the program. But he did leave some suspense since he mentioned that the technicians involved in the film would be revealed one at a time in future episodes.

Like last week's show reel on Superstars, this week's episode kicked off with a montage on Tamil cinema's super heroines. This one had pretty interesting trivia about actresses over the years and included the usual suspects like T.P.Rajalakshmi, Savitri, Padmini, Saroja Devi and Sridevi. Also part of the filler were 2 music performances by Yogi B. One sounded like an original song while the other was a remix of Ilaiyaraja's classic Madai Thirandhu... from Nizhalgal. They were good if you are a fan of his music and definitely more welcome than the salsa dance we were subjected to last week.

The most disappointing aspect of the episode was the fact that we didn't get to see any of the contestants perform this time either. We got to see only 4 or 5 candidates - all of them guys - from the initial screening process(one of the judges here was Saravanan) that narrowed the field from 2000 contestants to 100 and the program ended with the selected 100 candidates gathered around on the stage. But the competition from now on is different from what I thought last week. The first 10 episodes will see 6 contestants eliminated and 4 going through in each episode while the next few will see 4 contestants eliminated and 6 contestants going through in each episode. Following that will be the quarter finals, I'm guessing.If nothing else, the large number of eliminations promises that there will be a lot of action in the first few episodes.

Simran, looking gorgeous and every bit a heroine, made an early appearance this time. But she didn't have much to say. Most of the talking was done by Madhesh, who was the special judge. He has directed Vijay's Madhura and is currently directing Vijayakanth's 150th movie Vithagan. Though Vijay Adhiraj introduced him as a director who had directed several superstars, I'm not sure of his other movies.

I can't think of any other fillers the show can put in next week. So hopefully, we'll finally get to see atleast some of the contestants. Let's wait and see...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Aboorva Sagodharargal - A Deleted Song

Whenever I read news items about unfinished movies, they are always along the lines of "the talkie portions are finished. Only the songs need to be shot". So I always thought that the song sequences were the last scenes to be shot in a movie. Looks like that's not always the case. The above video[link courtesy Baradwaj Rangan] is supposedly a song that was shot but never used for Kamal's Aboorva Sagodharargal. Kamal's mom in this song is played by Kanthimathi rather than Manorama and Janakaraj, who played the investigating police officer and so made an appearance only in the second half, is part of this song that clearly takes place in Raja's area. So it looks like both the cast and the storyline itself went through some radical changes after this song was shot. And considering Manorama's hilarious performance(her musical Aiyaiyo Aiyaiyo Aiyaiyaiyaiyo... cry on seeing Raja in jail is one for the ages) and Janakaraj's masterful performance that superbly treaded the line between comedy and seriousness, the changes were definitely for the better.

Seeing this song once again confirmed what I've always thought - Aboorva Sagodharargal is one movie that is definitely in need of a proper DVD release with a Bonus Features disc. With this song(and maybe a few scenes too that were shot at the same time) and Kamal's revelations about how he played the dwarf's role, the 2nd disc would be a virtual treasue trove for Kamal fans as well as cinema lovers.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

American Politics Primer

If we want to teach kids anything, all we have to do is to make it a game! So I usually have a quiz for Kavya where I ask her questions from her current syllabus. Karthik being the copycat that he is, seats himself right next to big sister and wants to be involved in the quiz too. So I started feeding him questions about whatever came to mind. With presidential elections coming up, most of my questions tended to revolve around that and pretty soon, as this clip shows, Karthik became one well-informed kid! He gets a li'l help from big sis towards the end but the rest is all him :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Pudichirukku, Nenjathai Killaadhey and Anjaathey are now online @ bbreviews.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Superstars with Simran

For a short while, Simran was slated to play Pasupathi's wife in Rajni's next film Kuselan. While she wouldn't have been paired with Rajni, she would have atleast appeared in a Rajni film, thereby filling in the one missing piece in her otherwise superb resume. Unfortunately, that fell through, apparently due to her difficult demands and Meena, who played the part in the Malayalam original, was signed on. So instead of appearing in Superstar's film, Simran is going to be a judge (though according to the show's host Vijay Adjiraj, she's gonna be a friend, philosopher and guide to the participants) on Sun TV's new show Superstars. The show started yesterday and with one of my favorite actresses headlining it, how could I miss it? :)

Superstars is a reality show that will unearth an actor and an actress for Tamil cinema. From the initial field, 100 contestants - 50 actors and 50 actresses - are going to be chosen. These 100 contestants will participate in acting-related contests each week, with 1 actor and 1 actress getting eliminated each week. The actor and actress left standing at the end of 52 planned episodes will get a special prize(Vijay Adhiraj did not reveal the prize but the obvious one would be roles in a movie).

Yesterday's episode was more along the lines of a preview show. The rules were spelt out and we got to see short clips of some of the contestants practicing and being judged. A nicely decked-up Simran appeared only at the fag end of the show and after a few lines(mostly in English but a couple in surprisingly good Tamil), limited herself to smiling and replying to Vijay Adhiraj's questions in mono-syllables. A short clip, featuring Tamil cinema's superstars over the years, though not providing any new information, was probably the most interesting part of the show. It started off with MKT and presented P.U.Chinnappa, MGR, Sivaji and Kamal before finishing off with Rajni. Then came a salsa dance performance by the pair of Sai and Keerthi, who have apparently participated in several salsa competitions around the world. The woman was dressed real skimpily and her figure - or lack thereof - combined with her moves made her look really vulgar. Definitely not suitable for family viewing(since Kavya too was watching what I thought would be a harmless reality show, we had to rush to locate the remote control and change channels!).

I've had enough of the variety shows(where people simply imitate popular actors) and dance shows. Superstars seems to offer something different and could give two people a good break by getting them a foot in the door in the Tamil Film Industry. So the show has captured my interest enough to look forward to it next week too.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Thanks Again!

Friday, March 7, was this blog's 3-year anniversary, with my first post being recorded on the rather unremarkable date of March 7, 2005. I definitely didn't think I'd be blogging for 3 years when I started blogging. After all, I started this blog simply because everybody else seemed to be doing it and not because I possessed some extraordinary, useful knowledge that I just had to share with the rest of the world! So I admit with no hesitation whatsoever that hitting this 3-year mark is solely because of you readers. Even with my love of movies(Tamil, in particular) and love of writing, its doubtful if I'd have continued blogging for 3 years without the enthusiastic comments, interesting discussions, entertaining arguments and fun trivia. And its been a lot of fun. So once again, a big 'Thank You' for visiting inspite of the site's staunch policy to focus on the trivial and the frivolous.

Now, a confession. I'm a lot less confident about this blog seeing its next anniversary than I was on the same date last year. And that's because I've noticed less enthusiasm on my part when it comes to this blog. Nothing much has changed on the personal front. My wife is still as opposed to this blog(though, in her defense, her opposition is to me spending too much time on the computer and not to the blog per se), my daughter is still as attention-demanding and my son is still as mischievous as last year. I do have a new job but since I do most of my blogging at night, that doesn't have much of an effect. So I think the only thing that's leading to this dwindling enthusiasm is a general lack of excitement about Tamil cinema, which clearly is the primary subject of this blog. And based on the recent dip in hits and fall in comments, I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in feeling this way.

2007 wasn't exactly a stellar year for Tamil cinema but by this time last year, we'd already had a commercial superhit in Pokkiri, an excellent, feel-good charmer in Mozhi and a rural, near-classic in Paruthi Veeran. Compared to that, it has been real slim pickings so far this year with Anjaathey, Pirivom Sandhippom and Pudichirukku, the three best movies so far this year, definitely not in the same league as those movies, either in quality or in box-office impact. A year ago, there was a lot of excitement in the air about upcoming releases too, with Sivaji leading the pack and Billa, Dasaavathaaram and Bheema(we thought those would be releasing last year too, right?) right behind. But barring Dasaavathaaram and Kuselan, I'm not excited as much about the roster this year and even with those two films, Dasaavathaaram hype hasn't picked up yet while the excitement about Kuselan is tempered by the fact that it is being helmed by P.Vasu. I usually write a 'Coming Soon' post about movies I'm excited about but my last such post was more than a month ago for Indralogathil Na. Azhagappan(we all know how that film turned out!) and that's a pretty good indication of my excitement level so far this year.

I love Tamil movies and I love writing about them. So I'm pretty sure that all it's gonna take to get my excitement level back up again is a couple of really good movies. I just hope it happens sooner rather than later. And I'm sure you do too...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Double Cross

James Patterson should just stick to the Alex Cross and Women's Murder Club novels. The prolific author's collaborations with other authors(like 2007's You've Been Warned, which is now my least favorite Patterson novel ever, beating out Violets are Blue for the dubious honor) have never matched his solo efforts in these two series. Double Cross, the latest in the Alex Cross series, pits Cross against two psychopaths, one old and one new. While it doesn't match the quality of Patterson's earliest novels, it has enough chills, thrills and suspense to be a fast read.
When the novel starts, Alex Cross is a psychiatrist now that he has retired from the DC Police force. But he is dragged back to his old job when a psychopath, going by the name DCAK, starts committing shocking murders in full public view. Meanwhile Cross' old friend-turned-foe Kyle Craig, who was with the FBI before being unmasked as the killer known as the Mastermind, escapes from prison and is itching for revenge on everyone who was responsible for his arrest.

While the quality of his books has slipped quite a bit, Patterson has rarely, if ever, written a book that was not a fast read. The same is true of Double Cross too. With his trademark short chapters, each of which still manages to end with a nice hook, and multiple story lines, the novel zips along. There is enough suspense in DCAK's motives and clues(he leaves keepsakes like unsigned greeting cards, a bottle of sauce, etc. at each murder site) to keep us hooked till he is unmasked and both he and Kyle Craig are diabolical enough to make Cross' pursuit interesting. The encounters, both close and not-so-close, between Cross and his foes are suitably thrilling and it helps that the detours into Cross' family life are kept to a minimum.

Patterson's earlier books had some fantastic twists that caught us by surprise. Books like Cat & Mouse, Kiss the Girls and Cradle and All(an average book but contained one of the best twists ever) thrilled us with revelations that came out of the blue. Such twists have been missing in his newer books and things haven't changed in Double Cross. There is one very surprising twist but it is revealed too early and after that, the books is pretty much one long chase. There are a few surprises fed to us at regular intervals but none of them deliver any big shocks.

Matrix and Sivaji

Scenes from The Matrix set to Sivaji's trailer's soundtrack. Imaginative and hilarious :)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Aasai Yaara Vittudhu?!

It took me a while to get over seeing Cheran and Navya in royal garbs in MaayakkaaNNaadi. Wonder how long its gonna take me to get over seeing this photo :)

Monday, March 03, 2008


With 'Oscar' Ravichandran(who re-marketed the film after its initial failure) and the monster hit Vaazha Meenukkum... being credited for the success of Chithiram Pesudhadi, director Mysskin hardly received any recognition. But with his second film Anjaathey, he proves that Chithiram Pesudhadi was no fluke and that he was probably short-changed when it came to being acknowledged for it's success. Compared to that film, Anjaathey is a little muddled, unfocused and predictable but he makes up for most of that with a more ambitious story and an engrossing screenplay.

Satyavan(Narain) and Kirupakaran(Ajmal) have been friends since childhood. Both have passed out of college in first class but their ambitions are different. Kirupa is focussed on becoming a Sub-Inspector while Satya's ambition only goes as high as owning an auto. After a particularly harsh tongue-lash from his father, Satya approaches his uncle, a minister's PA, for help on becoming an SI. He succeeds but ironically, Kirupa fails. Meanwhile, a gang led by Logu(Pandiarajan) and his right-hand man Dhaya(Prasanna) is on a kidnapping spree, targetting young girls.

Anjaathey could be seen as a lot of things. It could be seen as a policeman's coming-of-age story, a tale about a friendship gone bad or a cops-and-robbers crime thriller. And then there are the parts about a son finding redemption in his father's eyes and a love story! Inspite of a few missteps in all of them, the individual segments are handled well by Mysskin and its to his credit that none of them feels tacked-on. Ofcourse, considering that any one of these tracks is strong enough to carry an entire movie, some narrative jerkiness is inevitable when they are merged together. But these cracks at the seams are not wide enough to damage the movie as a whole.

One of the reasons these tracks merge well together is that Mysskin handles all of them with a ober, realistic touch (after all, a person's life is not a one-track story and and when the movie is realistic, it is easy to accept that it simply reflects life's complexities). He conveys things through low-key, simple sequences rather than loud, cinematic actions and this makes the proceedings believable. Like for example, Narain's character arc. The fact that he is not serious about his new job is conveyed through his body language and a couple of comments about bribes rather than overt acts that turn him into a poster boy for corruption in the police. So when he develops a onscience, its completely believable and his sincerity from then on is convincing. The same goes for the friendship between Narain and Ajmal or the relationship between Narain and his father. They are developed naturally and so the changes they undergo, though significant, seem natural too.

The other common thread between these tracks is that Mysskin never loses sight of the human side of things, like for instance, in Narain's first experiences as a cop. We are used to seeing two kinds of cops in Tamil cinema - the honest, upright do-gooder or the corrupt lackey of the local politician. While Narain eventually morphs into the former, the transformation process - one could call it his rite of passage - is not easy and in a few scenes, lays out the difficulties associated with a policeman's job. In the same way, by making the girls and their parents important parts of the proceedings, Mysskin makes sure that the kidnappings invoke a genuine reaction from us rather than just seeming like convenient plot points.

Considering that it was a purely commercial insertion - the Vaazha Meenukkum... item number - that propelled Chithiram Pesudhadi to success, the duet and the item number here, though completely unnecessary speed-breakers, don't surprise us. What is surprising though is Mysskin leaning towards silliness in what should otherwise have been powerful sequences. For instance, Narain's finest scene, where he first realizes his inner hero, is marred by the silly actions of the goons he goes up against as they walk up to him one by one to get bashed up. Not as silly but still damaging are Vijayalakshmi's completely ill-timed declaration of love and Ajmal's realization of Narain's friendship in the climax. Sequences like these would have hardly merited a mention in a commercial pot-boiler but in an otherwise solid, involving movie like Anjaathey, they stand out rather clearly.

The movie's look matches its theme and topic. There are no bright colors in its palette and Mysskin doesn't shy away from setting many sequences in the dark. There are quite a few long shots and novel camera angles, especially in the climax, where the top shots exploit the location of the dense sugarcane field perfectly. There are some nice visual touches like an extended, superb sequence where all we see are the participants' feet(an act by Prasanna, that once again reveals his perverse mind, caps off this sequence and lends reason to the technique). There are a few gimmicks too (like, for instance, the fact that we never see one villain's face) but amidst movies where the camera - and the director's vision itself - is static, even such gimmicks are welcome.

Narain slips into the cop's uniform well enough but falls short in a few places. His shock(like when he sees Ajmal in the bar) or indignation(like when he stands up to a superior officer) seem manufactured and his body language is inhibited. He is convincing in the action sequences and though, like Vikram in Bheemaa, he is made out to be superhuman, he manages to make the stunts seem believable. New face Ajmal gets a meaty role since he plays two extremes of the same character and does it well. Pandiarajan and Prasanna play are surprising choices to play the bad guys. Their willingness to play against type is admirable but they don't bring anything new to the table. Bhaskar and Livingston are very believable with the former in particular being very realistic in his cliched role of a father disappointed in his no-good son.