Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tamil Cinema vs Hindi Cinema

It wasn't too long ago that I vehemently argued, with anyone who held a contrarian opinion, that Tamil cinema was way ahead of Hindi cinema as far as quality goes. That wasn't the Tamil chauvinist in me getting riled up or me playing devil's advocate just for the sake of an argument either. I sincerely felt that Tamil cinema had better subjects and stronger stories while Hindi cinema churned out films that were mostly rip-offs of foreign and South Indian films. Their films looked good but lacked soul as they were mounted on lavish budgets and pandered shamelessly to the NRI fraternity. It was around that time that I wrote an article on how Tamil cinema could boast of the best talents in Indian cinema(best actor - Kamal, best director - Manirathnam, best music director(s) - Ilaiyaraja/Rahman, best dancer - Prabhu Deva, etc.).

But the tables have slowly but surely turned. Hindi cinema has seen a remarkable resurgence and Hindi films of late have showed a marked increase in quality. They are exploring diverse and unique subjects, tackling fresh stories and experimenting with new styles and approaches in storytelling. At the same time the quality of Tamil cinema has slid to scary levels with recycled stories, lacklustre screenplays, over-the-top heroism and a 'follow the herd' mentality.

The biggest factor in Hindi's cinema's transformation is, I believe, the complete lack of 'image' among the Hindi actors. They are willing to take on any role that interests them and provides enough fodder for their acting. Proving their versatility to themselves and others seems to be their priority. Its no longer even a surprise to see Aamir Khan play a terrorist or Shah Rukh Khan play the coach(without a romantic pair or a duet) of a hockey team. Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan play bad guys as easily as they play action heroes and Abishek Bachan and John Abraham, who have achieved heartthrob status, are getting ready to play gay men in their next film. The actors' receptivity to varied roles obviously allows the directors more freedom in coming up with interesting stories and creating intriguing characters.

Another big factor is that Hindi films don't seem to be stuck in the past and have made changes that keep moving their cinema forward. Lets consider the three staples of cinema - comedy, action and romance. I haven't seen a separate comedy track in any of the recent Hindi films. And I'm not talking about just the offbeat, non-mainstream films either. Even romances like Kismat Konnection, fantasy-comedies like Thodaa Pyaar Thodaa Magic and action-comedies like Singh is Kinng don't have comedians striving to make us laugh in a track that has little or no link to the main storyline. They do have comedians but blend the comedy in to the main track. Action is another department where the change is obvious. Gone are the days when a lone hero, defying all laws of physics and human ability, bashed up an assortment of goons in fight sequences. The action is now in chases(on foot or in many different kinds of vehicles) and gunfights. I'm not saying that all laws of physics are adhered to in these action sequences but it is easier to accept the breaking of the laws(like in Dhoom 2 or even Dus) when they are picturized with style. The changes in romance aren't as obvious as in the above cases since we still see the weak romances and duets in foreign locations. But there is a lot more maturity in the way subjects like affairs - pre-marital or extra-marital - are handled and there does seem to be a trend towards songs playing in the background rather than being lip-synced.

Before I'm branded a Tamil cinema-hater, let me say that I do understand that the situations in Tamil and Hindi are different. Hindi cinema has a pan-Indian reach and this wider reach means that Hindi films have a bigger budget since costs can be recouped much faster. The budget is what gives the film its 'look' and Tamil cinema is at an obvious disadvantage here. The wider audience also translates to more opportunities for films targeted at niche audiences since a small number of these audiences in different pockets could still add up to sizeable number of viewers. But the limited reach of Tamil films makes the niche audience really small, making a film targeting them a losing proposition right from the start.

Tamil cinema has done pretty good in the past with these same constraints but something's gone wrong along the way and its pretty clear that it is definitely in need of a major overhaul. The aforementioned changes in Hindi cinema are probably good first steps to take. But its not going to be easy. Unlike other professions, where a strong leader with the right goals can assemble a team with similar thinking and bring about a change, Tamil cinema's future rests on the shoulders of many people. And all of them need to change for the industry as a whole to change. We need heroes who set aside their egos and welcome new characters; directors who take risks and experiment; producers who fund such promising ventures; and distributors who buy such films and take them to the people. The day these happens is well worth waiting for. The question is if - and not when - the day will arrive.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bachna Ae Haseeno

Bachna Ae Haseeno starts off with the basic story of Autograph as it charts a man's 3 loves but then takes it in a different direction. The resulting film is not as heartfelt or emotional as Autograph but it does have its surprises and charms. Ranbir Kapoor's 3 romances are interesting in their own ways. Minissha Lamba, Bipasha and Deepika are different enough but the situations where they fall for Ranbir are all well-developed with the right mix of comedy, cuteness and romance. Considering Ranbir is a new, young hero who looks perfectly suited to play a soft romantic lead, the way the romances shape up comes as a bit of a surprise. The women take the upper hand in the second half. Minissha 's segment is a bit dull but Bipasha's segment more than makes up for it. She looks the part and projects the haughtiness just perfectly. And since her plight was a lot worse than Minissha's, we actually feel like cheering her on. Her scene with Ranbir at the airport is fantastic and she gets some nice dialogs and a fantastic closing line. Deepika's character starts off strong but isn't given time to grow on us. She looks gorgeous though. The movie takes a few chances with its story and characters for the most part but doesn't take any for the climax. So it feels like a very regular, predictable end to a not-so-regular story.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Vishal probably expected Sathyam to be his Saamy. He plays the same kind of no-nonsense cop, squares off against the same villain that Vikram clashed with and even utters a punchline that puts a small twist on Vikram's own, now-famous punchline from that film. Unfortunately, the comparisons stop there. While Saamy would figure among the better cop movies in Tamil cinema, the haphazard screenplay, the silly romance and the amateurish storyline place Sathyam squarely in the bottom half of the list.

Sathyam(Vishal) is a conscientious cop who believes in bringing criminals to book through judicial means rather than eliminating them through staged encounters. This attitude brings him to the notice of the Police Minister Kondaldasan(Kota Srinivasa Rao), a power-hungry politician who has his eyes on the indisposed Chief Minister's chair. Kondaldasan plans to eliminate his competitors to the CM's post and a skilled assassin(Upendra) is chosen for the mission. As the politicians are killed, Sathyam is assigned to the case. Meanwhile Deva(Nayanthara), an aspiring reporter who lives in Sathyam's apartment complex, clashes with him as he teams up with some naughty kids to harass her.

We've recently been used to cops who take the law into their own hands. So things start off differently here with Vishal intent on doing things by the book. As he begins to investigate the political murders, the film also shows signs of turning into an investigative thriller(even if not a very intelligent one since its primary elements are Vishal's intuition and Upendra's sloppiness). But both these starts lead to nowhere as the film eventually ends up following the exact same trajectory of most other masala cop movies. So Vishal goes up against a powerful politician, is victimized by the same system he believed in and gets increasingly frustrated at the state of affairs.

The film's screenplay is a mess with originality, continuity and tonal consistency not very high on the director's list of priorities. So we have a violent fight sequence followed by a Home Alone-style sequence of physical and slapstick comedy, the more physical parts of which are shown in Aalavandhaan-style animation. There's a sequence that recreates the scene at the RTO in Indian, even bringing back Senthil in an identical get-up as the corrupt officer while a chase sequence at the airport is lifted from Casino Royale. And as always, songs pop up at regular intervals, introduced by abrupt lead-ins. All this ensures that none of the aspects, like the romance, the action or the comedy, are convincing and we never buy into even a minute of the film.

Sathyam makes the same mistake that most other movies starring a big-name hero make - namely, treating the protagonist as a superhero rather than a hero. This is established early in the proceedings when a ball that Vishal kicks, after hitting the main bad guy, ricochets off him to hit all his buddies and then zips back to rotate furiously under Vishal's outstretched palm! Scenes like this make Vishal seem like a cartoon character rather than a flesh-and-blood character and nips any involvement we could've had with the character, right in the bud. The fight sequences, like the one in the ice factory, are mounted well but all of them have such moments that prevent them from being realistic.

Vishal looks the part with his stern looks and toned physique. Its obvious that stunts are his strength and he proves this during the fight sequences. I felt during one scene in Yaaradi Nee Mohini that Nayanthara had good comic flair that just hadn't been exploited. Not the case here though. She hams pretty badly, especially initially during her tiffs with the kids and Vishal. She looks gorgeous and every bit the heroine in the duets though. Harris Jayaraj does nothing special for his 25th movie. Chellame... reminds us of Vaseegaraa... while Aaradi Kaathe... is his now-familiar hero introduction number. Ada Gada... is staged as a fantasy number aimed at the kids but looks kinda cheap. Paal Pappaali... is the worst of the lot and pops up at the worst time also.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Odds and Ends

- Chiranjeevi has entered politics in AP. He officially announced his entry in a press meet last Sunday and said that he will announce his party's name soon. He also said that he is quitting acting since both professions require full-time involvement. AP and Tamilnadu have had a lot in common as far as the cinema-politics connection goes. They had NTR; we had MGR; NTR started Telugu Desam and swept to power as CM; MGR split from the DMK to form the AIADMK and won the elections to become the CM. Wonder if this similarity will continue in the present day now that Chiranjeevi has taken the plunge. Rajni and Chiranjeevi are pretty close, I think, with respect to their popularity in their respective states. So I'm sure Rajni will be watching the reception afforded to Chiranjeevi quite keenly.

- Kuselan looks like it is going to be the latest addition to the short list of flops in the latter half of Rajni's career. Personally, I place the blame for the debacle on P.Vasu(for the atrocious direction that killed the spirit of the original), Vadivelu(for the vulgar and crude comedy track) and the PR department(for portraying the film as a Rajni film and marketing it as such). The theater owners, who paid rates equaling those for a regular Rajni film, are demanding refunds from the producers and distributors.

- Saw Kismat Konnection, Thodaa Pyaar Thodaa Magic and Singh is Kinng. After seeing a string of good, fresh and different movies like Taare Zameen Par, Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Naa and Mithya, these three restored the balance and showed that Hindi cinema still produces feeble romances, dull comedies and logic-deficient, superstar vehicles.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I have lauded several films(Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Naa being the latest) for having interesting screenplays that put fresh spins on familiar stories. But occasionally, a movie does come along to surprise us with a unique, fantastic story. Mithya is one such film.

The film starts off like Billa as a poor, struggling actor is forced by a gang of criminals to take the place of the head of a rival gang(who they have already killed). But once we settle down, expecting this familiar story to play out in expected ways, a sudden, completely unexpected plot point takes the story in a brand new direction. The development leads to some delicious possibilities that have been exploited fully by the screenplay and adds a sense of unpredictability to pretty much every scene.

Mithya refuses to be slotted in any particular genre. At various points, shows signs of turning into a comedy(as Ranvir acts as the gangster), a thriller(as the rival gangs clash), a romance(as Ranvir and Neha share their stories) and even a tear-jerker(as Ranvir's wife and kids enter the picture). But it never lingers in any of these and always manages to take a turn that surprises us. The film's tone changes constantly as the story traverses all these genres too.

The film moves inexorably towards a conclusion that is difficult to accept but perfectly logical. With the memory of a previous conversation, an oft-used plot device that has never been used in a better fashion and a single word, it crafts a finale that is unforgettable.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vikram vs Kandasamy

Its been a pretty familiar trend for most high-profile movies of late... a big launch, eye-catching stills, a lot of big talk by the cast and crew, enormous hype leading up to the release and eventually, a disappointing film. But inspite of this trend happening more frequently these days, we still always get caught up in the next big film, hoping that it'll be the one that finally lives up to all the pre-release expectations. Kandasamy is shaping up to be one such film and the Vikram vs Kandasamy special program that was telecast on Sun TV for Independence Day managed to pique my interest in the film.

Kandasamy didn't raise my interest much initially. Director Susi Ganesan hadn't really proved himself in any big-budget films; star Vikram recently disappointed us with Bheema after similar talk of a sleek, Hollywood-standard film and he had already done this multiple-get-up thing with Anniyan; and the launch and the trailer simply seemed unnecessarily extravagant.

But the photos from the song sequence in Mexico made me sit up and take notice of the film. The bull-fight, with the arena and the costumes, makes for a unique setting and Vikram looks rather regal in the matador costume(can't say the same about 'Red Bull' Shriya though :-) This was followed by the program on Friday. It was mainly a conversation with Vikram(Susi Ganesan and the cinematographer also got a few minutes) and he offered some interesting tidbits about training for this song and getting the walk, the style, the posture, etc. right. While we saw a couple of shots at the shooting spot for that song, they did show a few scenes from another song that went Excuse me Mr. Kandasamy and had words like Poda and Podi. It seemed to be shot stylishly though the picturization seemed completely unsuited to the folksy song.There were also a few glimpses of some pretty impressive action sequences with a chase atop a long bridge and a sequence involving a helicopter catching the eye.

Kandasamy is supposed to release this Diwali though, considering the history of previous big-budget films, I'll be really surprised if it makes that date. But whenever does hit the screen, I'll be looking forward to it...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2 Lighthouses

A couple of weeks ago, we drove down to Pigeon Pt Lighthouse on Highway 1. It is the tallest lighthouse on the California coast and like all lighthouses, offered a picturesque sight against the clear skies. After the stop at the lighthouse we stopped at a nearby beach. It had a small creek flowing from the sea across the beach and that was perfect for the kids to wade in and play. A thick fog played spoilsport to our plans to watch the sunset and so we had dinner at a diner across the beach and then headed home.

Last weekend, we went to Pt. Reyes Lighthouse, about 30 miles north of San Francisco. Since we were forced to leave rather late, we managed to visit only the lighthouse and so it felt like we were in the car most of the time. But the lighthouse itself was a nice spot. Precariously perched on a rock outcrop right at the edge of the sea, it offered a nice view with the sparkling blue sea serving as the backdrop. We had to walk down about 300 steps to actually reach the lighthouse and spent a bit of time walking around it. By then, it was time to head back.

Some photos from both the places can be seen here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From Aamir, By Aamir, Aamir

Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Naa

A slick, youthful entertainer(produced by Aamir Khan) that once again proves the adage that 'screenplay is everything' by taking a familiar story of friends-turned-lovers and packaging it as a fun and fresh film. The construction of the screenplay as conversations among friends bookending flashback segments works fantastically by making chronological jumps seem less abrupt, allowing for minor narratives that serve as good breaks and announcing the intermission in a very clever way. The main story has traces of Priyaadha Varam Vendum and follows a familiar route but sidetracks like the one about Imran proving his heritage keep the overall film from feeling too familiar. The cast too helps in making stock characters in romantic films work. Imran reminds us of his famous uncle a lot with an equally expressive face and has no trouble making the sweet and likeable character work. Genelia tones down her Santhosh Subramaniam act but does nothing to stand out. The actress playing Meghna catches our eye in a complicated role though. Inspite of being predestined to be a loser in the story, her behavior with Imran and her attitude towards her dysfunctional family make her quite interesting. The actor playing Sushant behaves exactly like a predestined loser though and is a sore point among the otherwise well-etched characters. Naseerudin Shah is hilarious in a well-imagined role. Kabhi Kabhi Aditi... and Pappu Can't Dance... are awesome and superbly choreographed too.


Taare Zameen Par

A solidly involving, emotional film from Aamir Khan that flings away every excuse used by filmmakers who churn out so-called masala entertainers and still - or maybe because of it - works. A sensitive film about a dyslexic child and the teacher who helps him, it portrays the issue very well and with the help of some innovative graphics and Darsheel's expressive face, we know the exact problem long before it is spelled out. Inspite of revolving around a child who is afflicted, the film never seems exploitative. Darsheel is shouted at by his father and his teachers but these sequences are balanced with sequences where he is simply having fun and displays the streaks of stubborness and rebelliousness that are present in all kids his age. The result is that the emotional sequences - like the scene where he protests being sent off to boarding school - are really powerful. The focus shifts to Aamir once he makes an appearance but it feels natural. While Darsheel does have an affliction, the more important problem he faces is the lack of understanding from others and that is what Aamir dispels first. The sequences where he actually works with Darsheel are familiar but uplifting nevertheless. The climax is predictable but who cares?! The moment when we see a particular painting is just exhilarating. The movie signs off with a perfect visual shot that pretty much captures the essense of the entire story.



A thriller but not your garden-variety one. While we usually see the protagonist chase the bad guys, here its the hero Rajeev who is led on a chase. Since he doesn't know what he is chasing or why either, he earns our sympathy with his plight. His encounter with the customs officer at the airport after he lands gives us a loud hint about the movie's subject but throughout the film, we don't know more than Rajeev. We are as much in the dark as him and this suspense keeps us involved in the proceedings. Why the villain chooses Rajeev isn't very clear even after the objective of the chase is cleared but it paves the way for a very powerful and emotional end to the film.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Broken Window

The Broken Window is the latest novel in Jeffery Deaver's long-running Lincoln Rhyme series. Its protagonists and its villain are interesting and well-matched and its theme makes it a topical, interesting read but it lacks the twists and thrills that mark Deaver's best novels.

Lincoln Rhyme is in the middle of helping the London Police apprehend an assassin when he learns that his cousin Arthur Rhyme has been arrested for murdering a woman. After digging into the case a little, Rhyme deduces that Arthur has been set up rather cleverly and he soon hits upon similar cases that he thinks could be the work of the same man. The case leads him to SSD, a datawarehousing company that stores and analyzes data on people.

Identity theft is a growing concern today but the crimes have been mostly financial in nature as the criminals use an unsuspecting victim's identity to make purchases. The book creates a much scarier scenario as the villain uses information about people to commit crimes and incriminate innocent victims. His MO - learning about the victims to get close to them and learning about the people who are going to take the fall to set them up - seems plausible in this digital era and the repercussions are real scary. This combination makes the actual crimes an engrossing read.

But Rhyme's chase of the bad guy is unfortunately not that engrossing. His lack of mobility and his meticulous, detailed style of investigation are interesting as always and Amelia Sachs, who serves as his eyes and ears at crime scenes, makes a good partner. But it feels like there are a few too many lucky breaks(their first and biggest break comes from a post-it note stuck to some evidence that the villain throws away) . The obstacles that the villain places in the paths of the people behind him add something new but they get repetitive and predictable after a while.

Deaver is the master of the surprise twist and novels like The Cold Moon and The Coffin Dancer had twists that blew me away. Considering that, The Broken Window fails to surprise us. The bad guy's identity is not that big a surprise and many minor twists along the way are easy to guess for regular readers of Deaver since his writing style doesn't change much.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Bheema, Kuruvi, Dasaavathaaram, Kuselan... With films with big stars and established directors turning out to be disappointments at best and disasters at worst, 2008's been a rather bad year for Tamil cinema. It has finally taken a debutant director and a new cast to give us a reason to cheer. Rousingly realistic and constantly gripping, Subramanyapuram is a daring, confident film from a director who knows his cinema.

After a short but intriguing start in the present, the scene shifts to the town of Subramanyapuram in 1980 where we meet Azhagar(Jai), Paraman(Sasikumar) and Kasi('Ganja Karuppu), three unemployed friends. They double as henchmen for an ex-councilor Somu, who dreams of making it big in politics and Somu in turn helps them out when they land in hot waters. Jai and Somu's daughter Thulasi(Swathi) have eyes for each other though they haven't exchanged as much as a word. When Somu's political plans are dashed by another politician, the three friends step in and life isn't the same for them after that.

Subramanyapuram's story is not fresh or unique. The story of friends being used as pawns by people in power and getting caught up in a spiral of violence has been seen in films like Pattiyal and Naalai and the underlying theme of "violence begets violence" has been explored in several films like Pudhuppettai. But Sasikumar sets the bulk of the story in Subramanyapuram in 1980 and the location(with the distinctive slang and the local customs) and the time period(with the dresses, the television set, the movie posters, the old cars) add a new dimension to the story, which by itself is timeless and has nothing to tie it to that era.

Subramanyapuram is one those movies(Kaadhal is another that comes to mind) that seems like the result of the director training his camera on a particular set of people going about their lives rather than on a bunch of actors acting out a script. It feels like a series of events unfolding in real time rather than a predetermined story. That makes us care about the characters and lends a sense of unpredictability to the proceedings, both of which create a level of involvement that rarely happens in a Tamil film. Subramanyapuram keeps us pinned to our seats throughout its running time.

The biggest reason for the above is that the film is completely natural. Everything, from the dialogs to the gestures to the environment to the progression of events, feels real. Take the scene where a couple of friends visit Jai and Sasi in jail. This is usually a familiar scene where the visitors have long, uninterrupted conversations with the inmates, brush or clasp fingers longingly through those tiny squares in the barricade and finish whatever they are saying just in time for the jailer to say "Time's up" with a couple of swats of his lathi. But here the place is chaotic with the friends barely able to hear each other above the din created by all the conversations and when they do get to talk, the conversation is surprisingly brief and matter-of-fact. Almost every scene reinforces this sense of realism and when the characters, their conversations and the setting feel real, our reactions and emotions don't have to be forced either.

The film's second half contrasts sharply with the first as Jai and Sasi are sucked into a whirlpool of violence. The film pulls no punches when it comes to portraying the violence and it is quite brutal and visceral. But it is the shots of the non-violent kind - those delivered through words and actions - that always hit harder and that is illustrated vividly through the developments. The impact - both positive and negative - that these developments have on us is proof enough of our involvement in the lives of the film's characters. The finish is a little open-ended though and a little more explanation about the events that led up to it would've helped.

Director Sasikumar understands that cinema is a visual medium and convey things visually rather than making his characters spell them out(which is how it should be). So, when we see Jai and Sasi jump into the fray(without asking for a reason) when they see some people hitting 'Ganja' Karuppu, we know they are good friends who will stand up for him. We don't need a sermon about friendship to understand that. Its the same when Jai calls out to his mother when he leaves after visiting him. What he says is not a lot but it manages to convey exactly what he's feeling. That's not to say Sasikumar goes for unnatural silences or makes the characters speak in those Manirathnam-style clipped sentences. The characters, whether its Kanagu prodding Jai and Sasi into action, Ravi talking about the tragedy that befell his family or Swathi's uncle revealing his knowledge about her romance, speak naturally and what they say and the way they say it sound just perfect.

From a purely technical perspective too, Sasikumar shows himself to be a director who knows his craft. He puts his stamp on several scenes but not in a way that overwhelms the film itself. From those interesting transitions in the first sequence to the deliberate tracking shots to the exhilarating segment after Jai and Sasi lay their hands on some money, Sasi displays a wonderful eye for his shots.

Jai's diction is a little suspect but he conveys both the shy, carefree side and the fiercely faithful side of his character. Sasikumar doesn't take any wrong steps in front of the camera either and provides able support to Jai. Swathi overdoes the romantic look and shy smile bit somewhat but that is what the role requires her to do. 'Ganja' Karuppu utters a few very funny one-liners but shows us that he can do more than that. The rest of the film's cast fit their roles perfectly. Kangal Irandaa... is a wonderful melody from debutant music director James Vasanth. The Subramanyapuram... bit that plays in the background in one sequence is quite catchy too.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Quantum of Solace Trailer

The Bond franchise was re-invented with 2006's Casino Royale. The series became increasingly silly and over-the-top towards the end of Roger Moore's tenure and though Pierce Brosnan brought back some respectability starting with Golden Eye(which at that time was considered a comeback for Bond), it was essentially more of the same but just done with more style and dignity. But Casino Royale gave the series a completely fresh start in quite the same way that Batman Begins restarted the Batman series. It gave us an early look at Bond from before he earned his 00 status, banked on Q for his gadgets and flirted with Moneypenny. It showed him as human as he fell in love and was battered and bruised in fights with the bad guys. The stunts too more grounded in reality and as a result, more thrilling. Daniel Craig, inspite of earlier misgivings, made a fine Bond and brought a lot of intensity to the role.

The second film with this 'new' Bond(Bond 22 for those keeping count) is Quantum of Solace and is being released this November. I remember the earlier Bond movies as independent episodes inspite of the characters common to all films(Bond, M, Q, etc.) and the appearance of a few other characters(Jaws, Blofield, etc.) in more than one movie. The stories in each were divorced from one another. But Quantum of Solace appears to start off exactly where Casino Royale left off - with Bond meeting Mr.White. Revenge(for Vesper Lynd) seems to be a big element of the film and it looks like he has M herself, apart from other bad guys, after him.

Looking forward to this one...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Kuselan - Full Review

Kuselan is an attempt at marrying a down-to-earth story revolving around emotions and Rajni's superhero image. In other words, it tries to offer something to Rajni fans as well as others, something that doesn't usually happen in movies featuring Rajni as the hero. Both those elements have been treated satisfactorily and mixed together well. Unfortunately, quite a few more elements have been thrown into the mix to make the movie a complete commercial package and none of those work. As a result, Kuselan works only in parts.

Balakrishnan(Pasupathy) is a barber in the village of Periyoor. Unable to get a loan to upgrade his equipment,he is losing business by the day to Shanmugam(Vadivelu), his competitor with a modern shop and rather questionable ways of landing business. As a result, Balu is barely able to make ends meet but his wife Sridevi(Meena) and his three children understand his position. The whole village is excited when a movie unit arrives to shoot a film starring the Superstar Ashok Kumar(Rajnikanth) and when news filters out that Balu and Ashok Kumar were friends in school, the villagers' attitude towards Balu undergoes a sea change.

Shorn of the unnecessary frills, the film is about friendship and the changes it brings in the life of a man. Inspite of Vasu's non-subtle filmmaking style, these sections do work well. It is easy to admire Pasupathy for his ideals and principles throughout and so we sympathize with him during his tough times and feel happy for him when he is treated well. His reactions to the people looking to exploit his friendship with Rajni are natural and the results of his actions are logical considering his nature and the situation around Rajni.

As far as Rajni goes, his appearance can be divided into parts - the one where he is a movie star in the movie within the movie and the one where he plays the actor outside of the movie. In the former, he gives his fans what they look for with several costume changes, punch dialogs and a song sequence. Though completely unrealistic (they are shooting two movies in 40 days?!) and hovering loosely without any real drama or emotions tied to them, the sequences work because of Rajni's charisma and screen presence. But it is when focusing on the man behind the actor that the movie delivers something different. The movie pretty much idolizes him and we know he is still acting but the one scene where Sunderrajan questions him is a huge surprise. The questions are shockingly sharp and his answers and emotions, though not completely clear, feel honest. I honestly can't imagine any other actor, even one with a fraction of Rajni's image and fan following, agreeing to have these questions posed to him and answering them without pandering to the fans.

Probably because he thought that the primary track was too sentimental and emotional, Vasu tries to make the rest of the movie a comedy and packs a number of comedians into the film. Vadivelu is the biggest of these and gets the most screentime but he is also the least funny of the lot. He might have a new profession here but his segments feel like rehashes of his previous comedy tracks where he comes up with clever plans that culminate with him in some kind of trouble. The segments themselves are childish and the punchlines to them(like when his assistants bring in a thick-moustached man or when he tries to scale a wall) are obvious miles before, killing the humour. The scene when he comes face-to-face with Rajnikanth is the only one where he makes us laugh. All the others have a few funny lines(Santhanam's description when he first sees Santhanabharathi, Livingston's assistant's first mispronunciation of his name, etc.) but Vadivelu's entire track is devoid of laughs and makes those sections painful.

P.Vasu is one of those directors who is stuck in the past and his movies are painfully old-fashioned. He seems oblivious to the huge advances in moviemaking technology and techniques and sticks to ancient methods. Whether its the comedy, the script, the way he films sequences or the special effects, everything is loud and overt. Even then, the crassness in the film comes as an unpleasant surprise. Vadivelu's scenes with his wife step into vulgarity frequently and a scene where he ogles Nayanthara in her room is particularly distasteful. The awkwardly inserted Chaaral... song sequence too follows the tradition of rain songs and is little more than an excuse to showcase Nayanthara's wet curves. The vulgarity is not new or worse than that in many other films but sticks out here because of the emotional theme, the presence of Rajni and the fact that it is being called a 'clean family film'(there were children-only special shows on the first day!).

As I said earlier, the film works only in parts but fortunately, one of the parts that does work is the climax. Rajni's speech is heartfelt and honest and even the reaction shots, though cinematic, work. It is the kind of speech that makes it easy to believe the responses. The subsequent scene is surprisingly short considering that the whole movie built up to it but it has a strong impact nevertheless.

Pasupathy proves his mettle once again. He conveys his feelings, which range from shyness to lack of confidence about Rajni's reaction to frustration at the inability to meet Rajni, very well and we feel sorry for him as people turn on him. Meena looks a little too well-dressed to make her dire financial situation believable and seems a little artificial in the few scenes she appears in. Om Zaraare... has a Vaaji Vaaji... hangover but the dance steps are simple but good. Cinema Cinema..., prefixed by a line announcing it as a tribute to 75 years of Tamil cinema, feels a bit chaotic as the tribute is packed into just one paragraph and the remainder of the song sings praises of Rajni. 75 years probably deserved a better tribute but Rajni's style and dresses won't have any of his fans complaining. Perinba Pechukkaaran... is rather ordinary but a special kudos to its lyricist for the double entendres that revealed a whole new dimension for the song onscreen.

Friday, August 01, 2008


Kuselan is an attempt at marrying a down-to-earth story revolving around emotions and Rajni's superhero image. In other words, it tries to offer something to Rajni fans as well as others, something that doesn't usually happen in movies featuring Rajni as the hero. Both those elements have been treated satisfactorily and mixed together well. Unfortunately, quite a few more elements have been thrown into the mix to make the movie a complete commercial package and none of those work. As a result, Kuselan works only in parts.

To be continued...