Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coming Soon - Kuruvi

The insipid nature of Tamil cinema so far in 2008 is clear from the fact that we are 5 months into the year but coming up on only the second movie(after Bheema) that I've really looked forward to. The gang that gave us Gilli 4 years ago is back with Kuruvi, which is releasing this weekend. With hits like Yaaradi Nee Mohini and Santosh Subramniyam, Tamil cinema is looking better that it did even a few weeks ago but we've still not had a true-blue blockbuster yet this year and I'm hoping that Kuruvi is the first.

The term 'kuruvi' is used to describe those who make frequent trips between Singapore and Chennai with the express purpose of smuggling goods from Singapore. The film is supposed to be about Vijay getting caught in one such smuggling ring and extricating himself. From the looks of the trailer, it is heavy on action with some romance, comedy and songs thrown in.

After stumbling at the box-office with Azhagiya Thamizh Magan, Vijay will be looking for a hit with Kuruvi to keep up his reputation as Tamil cinema's biggest box-office star after Rajni. He is paired with Trisha again. The pair has had both hits(Gilli, Tiruppaachi) and flops(Aadhi) and will be looking for another hit to maintain the tag of 'lucky pair'. Kuruvi has two stars from Sivaji. While Vivek is the comedian, Suman, who walked in after Prakashraj dropped out due to his busy schedule, plays the villain.

While I do like Vijay, my expectations for his movies are high or low depending on the director he has teams up with. So I looked forward to Pokkiri quite a bit because of Prabhu Deva while I was rather lukewarm about Azhagiya Thamizh Magan. On that scale, my expectations for Kuruvi are sky-high since the film has our best - and my favorite - masala film director at the helm. With Dhill, Dhool and Gilli, Dharani showed us that he had mastered the art of creating fast-paced, well-balanced masala films that had no dull moments. Not surprisingly, all three were huge box-office hits. He then went to Telugu, where he made Bangaram with Pawan Kalyan. That film received scathing reviews and was a flop. Now that he's back in Tamil I am hoping the Telugu film was just a blip on his radar and that he has recovered his touch.

Vidyasagar has always come up with crowd-pleasing, popular soundtracks for Dharani. His soundtracks for Vijay haven't been as successful. Kuruvi's album falls between those two extremes. Mozhu Mozhunnu... is very catchy and the only song that I liked on the first listen. Anuradha Sriram's voice is perfectly suited for the fast number. But a couple of the other songs have grown on me too. Palaanadhu... makes us hum too with its heavy beats and catchy tune. Dandana Darna... is a typical Vijay introduction number. Thaen Thaen... is one of those standard Vidyasagar melodies but is a bit too generic and not as good as some of his other soft numbers. I'm not a big fan of Yogi.B's rap and so Happy New Year... leaves me cold inspite of Sunidhi's powerful voice.

Let's hope Kuruvi flies high at the box-office.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Arai En 305-il Kadavul

In Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi, director Chimpudevan balanced satire, social commentary and comedy near-perfectly in brilliant fashion. In his next film, the equally intriguingly-named Arai Enn 305-il Kadavul, he tries to perform the same balancing act with comedy and moralizing but does not pull it off with nearly as much success. The message itself and his innovative way of conveying it earn him brownie points but he fails in keeping us entertained at the same time.

Rasu(Santhanam) and Mokkai('Ganja' Karuppu) are youngsters sharing a hostel with a diverse group of people including a professor(Madan Bob), a staunch atheist(Rajesh), a poet and other unemployed, struggling men. Rasu, who works in a pizza parlor, is in love with Mahishasuramardhini(Madhumita) but she barely gives him the time of day while Mokkai, who is unemployed and does whatever job he can find, dreams of marrying his uncle's daughter back in his village. After a particularly bad day, the two vent their frustration at God and are shocked when He(Prakashraj) shows up in their room. Armed with a 'galaxy box' that is the source of his power, God begins to spend time with Rasu and Santhanam, understanding their problems and advising them. But He is in for a shock when, on his last night with them, Rasu and Santhanam steal his 'galaxy box' and use it to improve their lives.

The film is a victim of wrong expectations. Considering the director's previous film, his choice of two comedians to play the leads and the fact that the film's story of a common man getting the chance to play God has led to a Hollywood comedy in Bruce Almighty, one expects a comedy that sneaks in a message or two. But what we get is a rather serious, message-heavy film with a few laughs scattered around. Santhanam and 'Ganja' Karuppu get a few one-liners and actors like Baskar are capable of making any dialog funny, but make no mistake, the film is no comedy. While the troubles of Santhanam and Karuppu before they meet God are expected(after all, we need a good reason for God to show up in the first place), the tone of the film after God shows up is a surprise. With Prakashraj's duties and the lead duo's experiences with their newfound power, there's hardly anything to smile about. Not that there's anything wrong about a director trying his hand in a different genre or two comedians playing serious roles. But the seriousness, whether in subject or handling, requires a certain depth and that is also lacking here.

The movie conveys the message that one has to try hard to make the best of one's situation. It is a topical, sensible message that the movie conveys convincingly through Prakashraj's actions in the mansion. He also has some nice, intelligent conversations, especially with Rajesh and Baskar. But the messages Chimbudevan tries to convey through Santhanam and 'Ganja' Karuppu after they become all-powerful feel rather muddled. Their trips to their families illustrate that money can change people and that money alone can't solve all their problems but the segments have a disconnected, rushed feel, thus not allowing the messages to sink in clearly. The resolution of Santhanam's wooing of Madhumita does contain a nice shocker though.

Chimpudevan has a nice idea about two common men getting the chance to play God but he doesn't exploit it. Santhanam and 'Ganja' Karuppu steal the power of God but hardly do anything with it and the power or the sense of awe that comes with the opportunity to play God is never conveyed. The two actually have the power of the world in their hands but barring a few inconsequential things, what they do - buying expensive gifts for relatives and presenting a uitcase full of cash to 'Delhi' Ganesh - could have been done even if they had simply stumbled upon a whole lot of money instead of the 'galaxy box'. Santhanam does say something about getting caught if they were flashy with their powers but that doesn't excuse the film for letting the opportunity go waste.

Both Santhanam and 'Ganja' Karuppu have a single style of dialog delivery and it gets tiring pretty soon. Seen occasionally in comedy tracks they can be funny but they lack the goods to carry a full movie on their shoulders. Thank God(pun unintended!) for Prakashraj. He presents God perfectly with his soft yet strong way of talking and conveys the messages with sincerity. Madhumita gets exactly 1 good dialog in the movie but that is quite a memorable one while Jyothirmayi has little to do in a rather thankless role. Baskar and Ilavarasu stand out among the rather large supporting cast.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Welcome Back!

That's Jo making her first public appearance after becoming mom to Diya. She's appearing in a short film on the subject of education for girls. The film's being produced by hubby Surya's Agaram Foundation and Tamil Nadu's Educational Department.

We miss you :)

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Finally got my Wii this weekend. While I never tried too hard to get one - no standing in early morning lines at stores or getting one of those IOUs from Gamestop, for instance - I did keep a watch on sites like WiiTracker that tracked the availability of the much-in-demand console (not that I had much luck with that particular site). Last week, Toys 'R' Us said that it was getting a whole lot of Wiis on Sunday and was taking pre-orders(I learned later that a number of other stores had announced the same. Looks like Nintendo's finally ramping up supply). I booked one last Wednesday and picked it up today.

I've seen the Wii when we went to a party at my wife's friend's house just once before and wasn't too involved as the kids there played Tennis and Bowling on it. But once I inserted the Sports disc(it comes with the console) and tried my hand at those 2 games, I could see what all the hype was about. I've had some videogame experience before since I've played on the Playstation but the Wii's wireless remote that allows us to reproduce the same moves as in the games(you get to handle it like a bowling ball, tennis racquet and golf club) makes all the difference and makes for a surprisingly realistic experience. Kavya took to the bowling right away too and once we started playing, it took some dire warnings from the wife to get me to switch it off.

I've never been what one would call a hardcore video gamer. Or even a softcore gamer for that matter. But my problem is that once I get a game I like, I become addicted to it. In college it was Prince of Persia. While other guys 'cut' college to do something interesting like go to the movies, I used to go to a friend's place to play that game. It was my first exposure to a computer game and I was hooked. Held the record for finishing the game in the fastest time among my friends too :) Don't remember any other computer games after that and my next addiction didn't come until after marriage. I bought the Playstation from Costco and the Crash Bandicoot game came bundled with it. I spent every spare minute playing that one and didn't stop until I had crossed every level, collected every available bonus and killed every villain. I also played Tomb Raider and Gran Turismo but not to the extent I played Crash Bandicoot.

Its been awhile since those games but with the Wii in hand, those memories came flooding back. And it's looking a lot like the beginning of another addiction :)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

For fans of martial arts films, the teaming of Jackie Chan and Jet Li has long been looked forward to. But it took Hollywood, where martial arts films have gained some popularity post-Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, to finally bring these two Chinese legends together in The Forbidden Kingdom. Though they are both past their primes and are stuck in a movie that doesn't really do justice to their talents, seeing them share the screen does help us overlook most of the movie's faults.

A high school kid Jason(Michael Angarano), a fan of martial arts movies, is transported to ancient China because of the powers of a magical staff in a Chinese pawn shop. He soon learns that he is the chosen on to deliver the staff to Monkey King(Jet Li), who needs it to defeat the Jade Warlord. Jason is helped in his mission by a drunkard Lu Yan(Jackie Chan), Golden Sparrow(Yifei Liu), who has her own score to settle with the Jade Warlord and the Silent Monk(Jet Li), whose own mission in life is to deliver the staff to Monkey King.

The Forbidden Kingdom has enough action to satisfy fans of the genre. Chan and Li get it on once in a long fight sequence and they also go up against with other fighters in bouts that are typically fast and well-choreographed. The different locations, props and opponents keep the fights from seeming repetitive. But the visual flair that we saw in movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers is missing. Barring a short scene where Liu is shown practicing surrounded by the orange colors of fall, there is no style or pizzaz in the fights. They are serviceable but bland. Apart from the lack of exhilaration, the other side-effect of this is that the lack of realism seems more pronounced. The visual aspect gave those other movies a dream-like atmosphere which made the wire-fu stunts seem acceptable. But the wire-fu stunts here stand out as unrealistic and take the fun out of the action.

Having grown up on Jackie Chan films like The Protector, Project A and Armor of God, Chan was the primary reason for me to see the film. I've admired Jet Li's fighting skills in his earlier movies and even his lame Hollywood entries but Chan's mix of real stunts and comedy made me his fan a long time ago and he was the USP of the film for me. Li was more like icing on the cake. As in his recent films, Chan's comedy is understandably given more prominence and even when he fights, its 'real' martial arts and the acrobatic, daredevil stunts are nowhere to be seen. Li plays the quiet, serious, man-of-few-words role he seems to have been stereotyped in in Hollywood though he does have some fun in the small role of the Monkey King. But its a little sad to see these two legends stoop down to getting laughs through some real cheap jokes.

While Michael kicks off the whole trip to China, he is more of a passerby once he is joined by Chan and Li. His kungfu training sessions contain a few laughs even if they have been seen before in every sports or kungfu movie where a newcomer is trained by an expert. And he is pretty convincing when he does get to show off a few moves. There is also a hint of a romance between him and Liu but though it never gets far, it does allow the movie to end with a nice touch that links the past and the present.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dasavatharam Trailer

After the photos and audio for Kuruvi, things are finally heating up for Kamal's Dasavatharam also. The high-profile audio launch, supposed to be attended by Jackie Chan, Amitabh Bachan, Mammooty, Vijay and Karunanidhi, is slated for this Friday and the trailer for the film is also out.

Considering Kamal's reputation for high standards and the hype surrounding this movie, I was a little disappointed about how the trailer is put together. Like most trailers, it is just a collage of random shots from the movie. There is no hint about the storyline or even snippets of dialogs. On the other hand, I'm pleasantly surprised that we got glimpses of so many of Kamal's roles. Considering his record on the dwarf role in Aboorva Sagodharargal, I thought he would keep the actual roles a secret right upto the movie's release but I think I saw many of his get-ups including the Vaishnavite, the American(which gives him the change to engage in his favorite lip-lock), the Punjabi and the old lady. I may spot a few more on future viewings. But in the end, the trailer does do its job of raising our anticipation for the film. Many of the sequences look grand and it looks like we're in for a real treat.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Virumaandi and Aaydha Ezhuthu showed us that familiar stories can be made to look fresh with non-traditional screenplays and director Dorai has taken this lesson to heart. So he takes a familiar tale, splits it up into three different tracks and presents it to us in a non-linear fashion. This novelty in narration does help but only upto a certain point since no amount of screenplay tricks can completely cover up how cliched the underlying story is. The uneven nature of the individual tracks doesn't help either.

The film switches between three tracks. In one, we see a young man(Bharath), who seems to be of Nepali origin, walk into the house of a software engineer and kill him in a methodical fashion. We soon learn that he has more victims planned and the police, who get photographs from him about his intended targets, are hot on his chase. The second track takes us to prison, where we see a prisoner(Bharath) trying unsuccessfully to commit suicide. Locked up in a punishment cell for this, he befriends another prisoner(Govind Namdeo) who is in jail on a trumped-up drug charge. And in the third track, we see a software engineer Karthik(Bharath) romancing a college girl Priya(Meera Jasmine). After unsuccessfully trying to convince her parents, the two elope to Chennai and start their life afresh.

Since the three tracks have no common characters(Bharath, ofcourse, is a common factor but he looks different in each and we have no idea if he is playing the same character in all the tracks) and we are not sure about their chronology, it is not immediately clear how they relate to one another. So the movie raises a number of questions about the links between them and that is a surefire way to gain our interest. But eventually, the movie keeps us in this mode for too long. The tracks do move along nicely but suspense turns to irritation as they show no sign of converging even after the 2-hour mark.

The multiple tracks and the extended suspense also have the effect of raising our anticipation regarding the final revelations when they do converge. So its comes as a disappointment when it turns out to be the oldest plot device in the book. But that said, Dorai finishes the film on a superb note with an unexpected - even if borrowed - sleight of hand that makes us assume a particular ending before turning things around.

The three tracks make up a nice trio since they deal with very different scenarios. The track with the Nepali Bharath is naturally the most interesting among the three. While the seemingly random murders keep us hooked regarding the motive behind them, the investigation by the police, which has its own clever moments(like the way they decipher the meaning behing the word Gouri, which has been scribbled on the wall by one of the victims) and ridiculous deductions(like the way they come up with the time for the next murder based on the phrase "Wonderful Times") keeps up the tension as they close in on Bharath. Ofcourse, the foundation of the track is a bit shaky since there is absolutely no reason for Bharath to give all those clues to the police in the first place. The track in prison resembles the scenario seen before in movies like Adhu Oru Kanaakkaalam, with the pathetic conditions and the sadistic warden. But the movie manages to keep things reasonably realistic(in other words, there is no song where the prisoners provide the background score with their aluminium plates!) and paint a rather nasty picture of life in prison. The romantic track ends up the weakest of the three since the romance is not convincing. But the impact the track does improve when things take a turn for the worse.

Bharath carries off the three roles convincingly. While his hairstyle and get-up are more noticeable in his roles as the engineer and the Nepali, he earns our sympathy as the prisoner(though the lack of any background to the character is a stumbling block). Meera Jasmine looks a bit mature and doesn't display a lot of chemistry with Bharath, though one can't blame her for not trying. Raja Ravindar earns our hatred with a suitably underplayed role of the obsessed cop while Prem fits the role of the cop on Bharath's trail. The movie boasts of a slick look and maintains a serious tone most of the time. The quick editing and unnecessary graphics in the beginning threaten to give us a headache but are thankfully toned down later.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Superstars with Simran - Episode 7

Caught up with Superstars on Sun TV yesterday after a couple of weeks. I'm not sure if there are official statistics out there for how the program is doing but they must be doing pretty bad if they have to resort to stunts like what they had yesterday, to boost viewership. That stunt, combined with some atrocious new rules and mostly untalented participants, is making me lose interest in the show rather fast.

The highlight of yesterday's episode, if one were to go by all those previews that focused solely on it, was an on-camera fight between Simran and Vijay Adhiraj over his comments about her judgement on some earlier participants. Simran launched into an interrogation of Vijay as soon as she came on-stage, questioning his credentials to judge her. At one point, both Simran and Vijay retreated to their respective caravans, the seriousness of the situation explained by one of those dramatic, somber voice-overs that usually announce catastrophes like earthquakes and tsunamis. The producer, with camera in tow, worked with both of them to get them to continue the show and all was well in the world again. It was rather funny when Simran, who made it a point to launch her tirade on-stage rather than backstage, kept asking the camera to be shut off. But considering that the whole thing was an act, she put on a really good show and was very convincing. Her entreaties to turn the camera off were sincere and she was almost in tears at one point. It was a great performance that all those aspiring actresses on the show can look up to!

A 'new' part was added to the show starting yesterday. The members of the studio audience were given cards with red on one side and green on the other and as each participant came on stage, they showed the green or red side indicating a 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' (in Vijay's words, they were voicing their opinion on the participant "thaerumaa thaeraadhaa"). I can't imagine anything else that could be more insulting to the participants. In addition to demonstrating their talent on TV, being judged by Simran and waiting to see if they make it to the next stage, they now have to endure being rated on their looks by some random viewers. Great!

The most disappointing part of the show so far has been the quality of the participants. There have been a few good participants but for the most part, they have been uninspired and unexciting. Most surprising is the apparent lack of practice from some contestants. When they get just a single shot at proving themselves, why they don't practice and put their best foot forward is beyond me. Also surprising is the complete absence of discernible talent in some others. If these were the people selected from the initial pool of 1000 contestants, one shudders to think of the talents exhibited by those eliminated in the initial screening!

Friday, April 18, 2008

6 New Reviews

Reviews for Inba, Vaitheeswaran, Kannum Kannum, Vellithirai, Yaaradi Nee Mohini and Santosh Subramaniyam are now online @ bbreviews.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Juno is the last of the 2007 Oscar Best Picture nominees that I watched. It may not be as ambitious or lavish as the other contenders but it is definitely the most sweet and likeable. With a sharp, intelligent script and a luminous lead performance, the film, like its title character, is a charmer.

Juno is a 16 year old girl who is pregnant. With her boyfriend as confused and unprepared as she is, she decides to get an abortion. But abandoning her initial instinct after a visit to the clinic, Juno decides to give the baby up for adoption after its born and zeroes in on a well-to-do couple, who have been unable to have a baby after 5 years of trying, as the adoptive parents.

Juno is a film thats watchable just for its script. The lines are consistently sharp and smart, whether they occur during innocent banter between Juno and her friend, chats between Juno and her baby's future parents or conversations between the parents. There are a number of solid chuckles and hearty laughs and when the script goes for other emotions, like during the harsh lecture Juno's mom delivers to the hospital assistant or in the conversation Juno has with her baby's father after learning he has a date for the prom, it nails them too. Overall, Juno is a film where everything that everyone says is immensely listenable.

The other big asset of the film is its heroine Ellen Page. She brings out every emotion just perfectly and is a complete natural. It helps that she is surrounded by perfectly-cast actors. Michael Sara is perfect as her boyfriend. He initially seems like a flaky high school kid who doesn't want any responsibilities but surprises us along with Ellen. Jennifer Garner conveys the anxieties of a mom-in-waiting very well(she is just fabulous in the scene in the mall where she feels the baby in Page's stomach) while J.K.Simmons hides his usual gruff persona to portray an affectionate and completely practical dad. The actresses who play Ellen's friend and Ellen's mom are also great.

With the subject of unwanted pregnancy and promised adoption, we are prepared for a particular story arc. But the screenplay surprises us with the path it takes. The problems introduced aren't expected - even if there are enough hints before - and the film deals with them in a very mature fashion. There are no bad guys and the screenplay doesn't judge or side with anybody. And the film ends just perfectly.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Like Father, Like Son?

When Karthik answered the quiz on America and its politics, a couple of commentors mentioned that they would've expected his first quiz to be on Tamil cinema. Considering his dad's love of Tamil movies and the primary subject of this blog, that made a lot of sense. So here's Karthik answering a small quiz on Tamil cinema. By the way, not as much prep and no prompting this time. Guess he's got his dad's Tamil cinema genes after all :-)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kuruvi Taking Off

As I mentioned earlier when Kuruvi's posters were released, buzz on the film seems rather low considering its high-profile cast and crew. With the movie's release now less than a month away, things slowly seem to be moving into high gear with a few photos getting released today and the film's audio also slated for release tomorrow. So lets see if hype about the film starts to take off atleast now. Considering the lacklustre nature of Tamil films so far in 2008, there's no doubt that I'm eagerly looking forward to this one.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Santosh Subramaniyam

With Santosh Subramaniyam, Director Raja, 'Jayam' Ravi's brother, once again proves that he has mastered the art of remaking. Delivering a good remake requires that the director select the right film to remake, populate it with the right cast and package it in a way that it suits Tamil tastes without losing the spirit of the original. Raja did this perfectly in 3 films, Jayam , M.Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi and Unakkum Enakkum and with Santosh Subramaniyam, he makes it four out of four. Consistently entertaining, it is solid, feel-good entertainment, even if most of the credit goes to the technicians behind the original Telugu film Bommarillu.

Santosh('Jayam' Ravi) could be called an unwilling daddy's boy. His life is controlled by his father Subramaniyam(Prakashraj), who decides everything from his underwear to what he eats. Santosh is determined to choose two things in life - his career and the woman he marries - but even these seem in doubt as Subramaniyam asks him to work in his own office and fixes an alliance for him. Santosh then runs into Hasini(Genelia) and falls in love with her but has to decide how he is going to break the news to his dad.

The film is a close copy of the original(while I didn't remember Bommarillu very well and so was able to enjoy this film, seeing a scene did remind me of its equivalent in the original) and the presence of actors like Genelia and Prakashraj(who played the same roles in the original) and the soundtrack(for which Devi Sriprasad has reused his original tunes) underscore the sense of deja vu. On the other hand, there have been a number of remakes that massacred their originals but Raja has delivered a remake that works as well as the original as far as entertainment value goes. So, in the final reckoning, while a director who crafts such a fun, feel-good film would deserve a lot of praise Raja can, at best, be given a backhanded compliment for not having messed things up.

The movie is populated with some wonderful characters. Hasini, in particular, is a really winsome role. Her innocence, frankness and friendliness make her very loveable and so its no surprise when Ravi falls for her or his family takes to her. Santosh is like most movie sons as he hangs out with friends, drinks and curses his dad but the difference is that he does all this on the sly. At home he is a model son, letting dad run his life. So his out-of-home activities, though familiar, take on a slightly different meaning here since they seem like his way of rebelling against his dad. Subramaniyam is strict and overbearing but its difficult to dislike him since that is just his way of giving his children the best(a nice shot between them is the intermission shot, which has Ravi pumping his hands into the air in joy while Prakashraj is looking on but the shot is framed such that it looks like Ravi is hitting Prakashraj in the heart).

Its the story though that allows all these characters to develop their individualities and catch our eye. Placing Genelia in Ravi's house allows us to see that the lives of all the characters there are controlled by Prakashraj and its nice that some of these characters too, apart from Ravi, play a part in opening Prakashraj's eyes to this fact. In the same way, Ravi's friends are around mainly for humor but they do play a part, in a nice scene, in letting Prakashraj and Ravi realize how lucky they actually are to have each other.

Raja definitely has a nice eye for humor. Without a separate comedy track or even long-ish setpieces that are obvious as comic detours, he manages to keep us smiling throughout. Every relationship, whether its the romance between Ravi and Genelia or the relationship between Ravi and Prakashraj is moved along with subtle humor. Even the overt humor, like Baskar's hilarious antics to keep Shayaji in the dark about the whereabouts of Genelia, work wonderfully since they are integrated into the film. And a number of the one-liners and comments uttered primarily by Santhanam and Baskar would make even 'Crazy' Mohan proud.

'Jayam' Ravi mostly plays second fiddle to Genelia and sometimes, Prakashraj but he maintains his boy-next-door image with this role. He has some fast dance steps in almost all the songs but though its obvious he has tried real hard, there is no grace in his dancing and he doesn't look he is having fun doing it. Genelia initially threatens to damage her character with her acting but eventually wins us over. Prakashraj does the dad's role perfectly and doesn't ham at any point. Geetha is solid as usual while Kausalya tends to be a bit too animated in her expressions. Santhanam is not his usual irritating self because he gets some very funny lines and Premji Amaran gives him company. Shayaji Shinde seems a bit miscast initially when he tries to do comedy but is good in the serious scenes. The songs are passable with the group song America Endraalum... being the most energetic of the lot.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Considering the enormous success of The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini's second novel was eagerly expected. He fully meets those lofty expectations with A Thousand Splendid Suns. Like The Kite Runner, this book too explores universal emotions like loss, guilt, trust and redemption against the backdrop of the chaos in Afghanistan. It does so through the lives of two Afghan women who are born in different places in different eras but end up fighting together against all the troubles life throws at them. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a fitting follow-up to The Kite Runner.

Mariam is the illegimate daughter of a rich businessman in the city of Herat. Abandoned by her father at the time she needs him most, she is forced to marry a much older cobbler and move to Kabul. Laila is born a short while after Mariam moves to Kabul. Laila's mother is constantly grieving over her two sons who have gone off to war and a boy named Tariq is Laila's only friend. Tariq's family moves out of Afghanistan and Laila's family is ready to follow them when fate strikes a really harsh blow. The lives of Mariam and Laila then intersect in unexpected ways.

The book definitely qualifies as a tear-jerker. The pain and suffering that Mariam and Laila go through are heart-rending and there is almost no physical or mental abuse that they are not subjected to. As young girls, whether its Mariam's dejection at being disappointed by her dad or Laila's regret at being neglected by her mom, Hosseini captures their naieve thoughts and feelings in a way that touches our hearts. Their troubles only increase as they grow older and though they are strong and brave women who finally realize that they can trust and depend on each other, they are caught in some really harsh conditions. There are some particularly scary situations after some new characters enter the picture. Things never feel manipulative or fake but there are a couple of places where we wish things would change.

Ofcourse, its only sadness that makes us understand - or savour - happiness more and Hosseini knows this too well. So moments of happiness, like Mariam or Jo bonding or something even more simple like Mariam holding onto a baby's fingers, even if fleeting, are simply exhilarating. Ofcourse, when something big happens, like the wonderfully surprising plot point that finally gives us hope that their lives could change, its a given that our hearts simply soar. And the final line of the book is filled with as much meaning and is as lifting as I ran.

Hosseini's narration is simple yet powerful. With plain but elegant prose, he manages to create characters and moments that stay with us long after the book is finished. His writing is evocative and the images he creates are so vivid that they seem to leap off the pages. Whether he's writing about people or cities, he has the ability to describe them in a way that makes it easy for us to picture them in our minds. So the people seem as real as people we've met and the places seem as vivid as places we've visited. This is one of the reasons why the happenings have such a big impact.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Our Preciousss

Kavya is just so proud to be a big sister and is so wonderful at it. She dotes on Karthik and is great with him. The li'l one is a monster who has his eyes on anything Kavya has and will do anything to get it away from her but she has a lot of patience with him(sometimes even more than us!). Sure they have a few fights and sometimes she forgets that he is a baby and gets frustrated when he doesn't understand her or listen to her but in general, she loves to play with him, teach him things and take care of him.

A couple of months ago, at a fund-raising Pizza night for the school, Kavya's teacher, who was sitting at a different table, sought us out to talk to us about her. She brought up a specific incident when the students in her class were asked to write about the happiest day in their lives. Most students, she said, wrote about the day they went to Disneyland, the day they got their Playstation, their birthday, etc. But Kavya wrote that it was the day Karthik was born and went on to write rather vividly about seeing him in the hospital, bringing him home, putting him in his crib, etc. The teacher herself was visibly touched and said "she really is a precious child". Kavya is a voracious reader, is ahead of her grade level in writing, got 'Outstanding' in most of the categories, especially in Language Arts, in her report card and is second in her class in Spelling. But that night, when the teacher told us that, we were just a wee bit more proud of her than usual.

I have a younger brother and had a lot of fun playing with him and bossing him around while growing up. But seeing Kavya dote on Karthik makes me wish I'd had an older sister too :)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Malayala MGR?

Pic Courtesy [Sify]

That is popular Malayali comedian Jagathi Sreekumar in Balachandra Menon's new film De Ingotu Nokkiye, releasing this April 14. He plays the Kerala CM in the film, which is supposed to be a love story set against the backdrop of politics. Sify says the film is "a satire and black comedy on Kerala politics" but seeing Jagathi's get-up, I wonder how much of Tamil politics is going to be satired!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Yaaradi Nee Mohini

With Kaadhal Konden, 7/G Rainbow Colony and Pudhuppettai, Selvaraghavan created a certain image for himself as a director. The films dealt with youth angst in a raw, in-your-face style that struck a chord with the viewers. He directed Yaaradi Nee Mohini's Telugu original Aadavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule and has penned the story and screenplay for the Tamil version but those expecting his kind of a film are in for a big surprise. It is a pleasant, straightforward romance with a rather familiar feel to it. The heavy sentiments and crude comedy don't mix too well but the film works well on the whole, with something for everyone.

Vasu(Dhanush) has been looking for a job for five years without much success. Its love at first sight when he spots Keerthi(Nayanthara) one day and learning that she works in a software firm gives him an extra incentive to land a job in the same company. He is successful in getting the job and after a few initial hiccups, earns Keerthi's friendship. But when he reveals his love for her, he is in for a rude shock.

The most surprising thing about Yaaradi Nee Mohini is the lack of surprise! Whether Dhanush's transformation in Kaadhal Konden or Soniya's boldness in 7/G Rainbow Colony or the lack of sentiments in Pudhuppettai, Selva's films always seemed to shock - or atleast - surprise us. They boldly went against the norm and pushed the envelope when it came to characters and relationships. But YNM is content with a smooth flow. From the father-son relationship to the midpoint surprise to Nayanthara's large family(seen in Jodi) to Dhanush's dilemma as he is caught between his love and his newfound relationships(seen quite recently in Kannum Kannum), the film presents story tracks and plot points that have a familiar feel. There are flashes of originality at places but for the most part, he film is happy to simply entertain us rather than surprise us.

The relationship between Raghuvaran and Dhanush mimics the one we've seen in several movies - the good-for-nothing, unemployed son and the concerned, unhappy father. But helped by the performances of the two, the relationship works. Their mood swings seem too extreme and their language sometimes sounds too harsh but they do successfully convey all the dynamics - affection, pride, anxiety - of the relationship between them.

The film is set in the software industry but handles the associated segments with an amateurishness that is appalling. The details of Dhanush's group discussion and interview are understandably glossed over but the workings of his company, whether its Nayanthara's gruff behavior with him or his own overnight rescue of their product from a 'system crash', don't seem to resemble a professional software concern even remotely. These sequences don't take up much time but the little we see raises as many laughs as the movie's more overt comedy scenes. The movie also spends a little bit of time in Australia but the set-like locations(like the bridge with the huge moon in the background) and scenes that feel like they were merged with more exotic backgrounds give rise to doubts about where the scenes were really filmed.

Once Dhanush goes to Nayanthara's village, the film gets some good laughs from placing him in a fish-out-of-water scenario but the laughs feel contrived and don't fit in. For instance, public farting could be funny but when the people involved have been shown, in just the previous scene, as belonging to an orthodox, strict family that's up at the crack of dawn to chant prayers, the laughs become muted because of the incongruity of it all. This is repeated quite a few times. Dhanush's discomfort and exasperation are very funny but the situations leading to that that are rather unrealistic. On the other hand, Nayanthara's sister's courting of Dhanush is funny since its rather cute and the Paalakkaattu... remix adds to the fun.

The role fits Dhanush like a glove. His playful nature and lighthearted antics make him likeable and he proves to have nice comic timing. Nayanthara looks great even if a little mature. She is just required to look serious most of the time but late into the movie, when crying for her little sister, she shows that she has good flair for comedy too. Raghuvaran perfectly conveys the contrasting aspects of his character and shines in the scene where he goes to meet Nayanthara. Karthick does well as Dhanush's friend while Karunas gets just 1 scene, where he talks to Nayanthara on the phone, to make us laugh. Yuvan's background score sounds like Poovizhi Vaasalile's Chinna Chinna Rojappoove... in a few places. Among the songs, Oru Naalaikkul... and Venmegam... take top honors in picturization also. Nenjai Kasakki... and Baby Oh Baby... are unnecessary item numbers, with the dancers' costumes threatening the film's claim to be a family film.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Fast and the Furious

The entire actor fraternity converged in Chepauk on Friday to support the Hogenakkal drinking water project and protest the attacks on Tamils in Karnataka. Barring award shows, we rarely see so many of our actors in one place and so it was a good day for star-gazing. Many of our actors gave speeches on the occasion and they ranged from the mellow to the dramatic.

Rajni was uncharacteristically fiery and blamed the Karnataka politicians rather openly. Considering his Kannada roots and his actions during the fast on the Cauvery issue, his stance on this issue and participation in the fast was in doubt. But he laid all doubts to rest with his speech. Not surprisingly, neither he nor his films are welcome in Karnataka any more.

Satyaraj's speech was unnecessarily inflammatory. Resembling a monologue he gives in one of his movies, it was loud, crass and rambling at times. He unnecessarily targeted Rajnikanth(I think it was Rajni he alluded to when he said "I know whose name will bring the loudest cheers but I would rather pull my tongue out than utter his name") who was sharing the stage with him and his story about MGR(MGR visited a Karnataka politician's house and feasted but refused water since Karnataka wasn't giving us water. Was water not used in all those other food items?!) was silly.

Kamal's speech, in contrast, was quite diplomatic, cautioning against violence and advocating patience(Sarathkumar's speech was similarly controlled and inspite of Nam Naadu and Vaitheeswaran, my respect for him went up a few notches).

Shreya appeared to think she was in a fashion show rather than a protest against a serious issue. Smiling, adjusting her hair and waving to the crowds, she finally managed to speak a few words(something about stifling creativity). After the fiasco at the State Awards and now this, someone needs to give her a lesson on public etiquette.

And finally, however serious the issue or however sober the occasion, gossip never takes a rest. Simbhu and Nayanthara sitting together was a big photo-op. I'm sure one could've cut the tension in the air there with a knife :)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

7th Heaven

7th Heaven, as the name indicates, is the 7th book in the Women's Murder Club series by James Patterson. The club was an informal club formed by four women - Lindsay, a cop, Claire, a Medical Examiner, Jill, the Assistant District Attorney and Cindy, a reporter - to put their skills together to solve tough cases. The club lost Jill earlier but she has since been replaced by Yuki, the new ADA. The book is similar to other recent books by Patterson - a good fast read with a disappointing denouement.

7th Heaven sees the club involved in 2 cases. Lindsay, with her partner Rich Conklin, is investigating a series of fires in the houses of rich couples. While the victims seem to have a few common things, Lindsay is completely lost since the fires have destroyed all the evidence. Meanwhile, an unsolved case suddenly heats up when the police gets a tip that Richard Campion, a former Governor's son, whose whereabouts are unknown since his disappearance, was last seen entering a prostitute's house. Shockingly, the prostitute confesses that he died when he was having sex with her and that her boyfriend disposed off the body. Yuki gets the case but is shocked when the prostitute retracts her confession.

Unlike the last few books in the series, 7th Heaven sees 3 of the women in the Murder Club involved in the proceedings. While Lindsay as always is in the lead, Yuki is around since Campion's case occupies a large portion of the book and Claire gets some importance since she is at the scene of all murders and also because she is pregnant. Cindy is the only one who is rarely seen. That makes the book seem like a legitimate entry in the series rather than a standalone thriller(of which Patterson has a few too).

As is usually the case in Patterson's books, we get to see the arson case from two sides - the killers and Lindsay. Apart from Lindsay's usual first-person narrative, there are a few chapters narrated by the killers too. So we understand how crazy but meticulous they are and how difficult it is going to be for Lindsay to uncover their identities. The way Lindsay gets to them eventually is the most disappointing part of the book though, with the website she and her partner just stumble upon being an obvious deus ex machina. There is some unnecessary churn introduced in Lindsay's personal life too but it seems resolved, atleast for now. Campion's case has more twists and turns and holds the usual interest that court cases do, with the arguments and cross-questioning of the witnesses. This track holds a couple of good surprises towards the end and is definitely the more satisfying of the two.

Friday, April 04, 2008

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Thoondil, Sila Nerangalil and Sandai are now online @ bbreviews.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Coming Soon - Yaaradi Nee Mohini

I mentioned before that 2008 has been a rather unexciting year for cinema so far. One of the signs - or even reasons - for my feeling that way was the lack of releases of Tamil films on the big screen here in the US. Films released almost every week even last year and with multiple theaters screening Tamil films, we actually had more than 1 film to choose from even on some regular(i.e. non-festival) weekends. But the last film screened in theaters here in the Bay Area was Saadhu Mirandaal in early February. After almost 2 months, Yaaradi Nee Mohini is being screened this weekend and I'm really looking forward to it.

The fact that Selvaraghavan is a saleable brand in Tamil cinema is pretty obvious from the publicity for YNM. A remake of the Telugu film Aadavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule that was directed by him, the film is directed by his assistant Jawahar Mithran but one wouldn't realize that from the posters. Its Selva's name that is displayed prominently as the man in charge of the story and screenplay. With Kaadhal Konden, 7/G Rainbow Colony and Pudhupettai, Selva has built up a name - and a following - for his brand of raw, earthy cinema. His films, particularly the first 2, portrayed youthful angst in an in-your-face style that was uncomfortable but successfully walked the line between realism and cinema. But from what I read about AMAV, it is not a film in Selva's usual style and is supposed to be a family film - a phrase that definitely can't be applied to any of his earlier films.

When a film gets together a lead pair who have recorded recent hits, the film's profile automatically becomes higher. YNM pairs up Dhanush and Nayanthara for the first time(for those interested in trivia, Nayanthara becomes the 2nd heroine,after Shreya, to act as heroine with both father-in-law and son-in-law:-). While Dhanush last gave us Pollaadhavan, a critical and commercial hit, Nayanthara has become Tamil cinema's latest pin-up girl by virtue of walking around in a bikini in Billa, a huge hit. Looking at the trailer, Dhanush seems to be doing the playful, light-hearted role that he does real well while Nayanthara looks gorgeous in a role far removed from her glamorous, action-oriented role in Billa.Theirs is a fresh, interesting pairing and if one goes by an interview they gave together on Sun TV for Pongal, they share good chemistry also. The film also stars Raghuvaran, whose appearance on screen is sure to raise a twinge of sadness considering his recent demise, and Karthick Kumar, who played the third corner of the love triangle in Kanda Naal Mudhal.

Yuvan Shankar Raja has delivered some of his best albums for Selva and its no surprise that he is scoring the music for YNM too. While I haven't heard the songs in the movie's Telugu original, Yuvan is supposed to have dropped one song and reused the same tunes for the remaining five. Oru Naalaikkul... is sung well by Karthik and caught my fancy immediately. The slow Venmegam..., sung by Hariharan, is the other good number. Nenjai Kasakki... and Engeyo... fall in the now-familiar category of "good songs that sound bad because they were sung by Udit Narayan". Baby Oh Baby... is rather average.

Into the second quarter of 2008, Tamil cinema desperately needs a bonafide hit to perk things up. Lets hope Yaaradi Nee Mohini is it...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Forever Young

Saw Sandai a couple of days ago and still can't get over how fabulous Nadhiya looked in it. There are quite a few jokes where she is mistaken for the bride instead of Ragini, the supposed heroine, and though the jokes come off looking a bit vulgar, one can't fault the reasoning behind them cos Nadhiya could easily pass for the heroine. Blame Tamil cinema for relegating her prematurely to mother and mother-in-law roles. Coincidentally, came across photos of 2 other actresses who still look great. In the center photo there is Amala when she, on behalf of Blue Cross, presented awards to persons and organizations whose work helped animals live in a better way. In the third photo is Sridevi walking the ramp on the final day of Fashion Week in Mumbai. Considering how other actresses like Ambika, Radha and Nirosha, who are also from around the same era, have let themselves go, its nice seeing these actresses still look as beautiful as they did when they were heroines.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Thots on Aegan

Will Billa turning out to be the biggest hit in Ajith's career, the actor's career can be considered to be on the upswing again. So Aegan, his next film, gains a lot of importance since it will determine whether Ajith continues his upward ride or whether Billa was just a temporary peak.

Ever since Aegan was launched, there have been rumors that it is a remake of Shah Rukh Khan's Main Hoon Naa. There has been nothing official from Ajith, Ayngharan or director Raju Sundaram yet but there are a few signs pointing towards that. The name Aegan, which means protector, goes well with Main Hoon Naa's story since the hero is exactly that - he protects his country, his brother, his general's daughter, etc (personally, I think Yaamirukka Bayamaen would've been an even more perfect title). The film's initial stills showed a bearded Ajith in Hong Kong and news items said he was involved in some stunts, which could be for the equivalent of the Hindi film's opening action sequence. Ajith is now clean-shaven and there is talk of the rest of the shooting taking place in a school in Ooty, which could take the place of Darjeeling in the original.

On paper, the story of Main Hoon Naa is a mess. It seems regressive(boy ignores tomboyish girl; boy falls in love as soon as she becomes 'Indian'), sentimental(Shah Rukh bonding with mom and brother), over-the-top(the cycle rickshaw chase sequence), crude(one character spits when talking) and jingoistic(the India-Pakistan bhai bhai project). But Farah Khan manages to put these elements together and craft a film that is slick, fun and marvelously entertaining. It is one of those movies where everything seems to work - the performances are pitch-perfect, the romance is sweet, the action is energetic and the songs are very catchy. The film is never too serious but it is never so silly or comical that it descends into camp. Farah Khan walked the tightrope beautifully and it is this aspect that Raju Sundaram has to capture if he wants to make Aegan work.

I feel the film is a perfect vehicle for Ajith at this point in his career. The actor played the sweet, charming lover boy in several movies initially in his career and was well-liked, whatever the fate of his movies. Then Dheena happened and he turned into a masala hero with action becoming the primary aspect in his movies and fun and romance were pushed to the background. A long string of duds has thankfully made him give up on those movies but while the movies he has selected since then have been better, they haven't brought back the Ajith of old. The don in Billa, the young man seeing his dreams come crashing down in Kireedam, the man on a mission in Aazhwaar... all these movies saw him play some variation of a serious, brooding protagonist with enough reasons to stay that way. I can't remember the last time he looked like he was having fun appearing in a movie. The hero's role in Main Hoon Naa offers a good chance for him to enjoy himself again. The army background offers enough heroism to satisfy his fans while the school segments, especially the wooing of the teacher, could bring out his fun side. We can only hope that Raju Sundaram focuses on the latter.

Nayanthara is the only other cast member announced so far and if she goes in for the same kind of classy sarees that Sushmita Sen dazzled us in, she's gonna make us all wish we were back in school! Arun Pandiyan is seen in those initial photos from Hong Kong but I'm not sure if he's acting in the movie or just staying behind the screen. But if he is acting, he's probably doing the role of the misguided patriot that Sunil Shetty did. The roles of the hero's brother and the General's daughter are key since they play pretty big parts and I'm real curious about who's going to be selected(frankly, I couldn't think of any actor for the brother's role).

This whole post could be moot if it turns out Aegan is not based on Main Hoon Naa! But until we know one way or the other, the fun lies in the guessing :)