Monday, April 20, 2009

Growing Up

Among recent films, Ayan went into some detail when it came to some nefarious activities(VCD piracy, drug smuggling, drug transport, etc.) going on around us. While admittedly superficial, the behind-the-scenes look did add some realism and excitement to the otherwise cliched endeavors like piracy and smuggling. What really annoyed me though was the general tittering that could be heard from the audience whenever Surya or the other actors talked about anything technical (like, for instance, the chemicals and the reactions they talk about to uncover the drugs smuggled in PiLLaiyAr idols).

This is definitely not the first time I'm hearing this. The same reaction is assured whenever one of our movies brings up anything even remotely technical. Whether its Srikanth talking about water desalination in Kanaa Kanden or even something as simple as Jyothika introducing herself as an M.Tech from IIT in Kaakka Kaakka, it results in an audience reaction that is completely condescending. It could be a lone snigger or a more widespread hoot but it is clearly a patronizing expression that puts down the actors and the movie itself.

I'm not saying that Tamil cinema is beyond reproach when it comes to technical matters. It's not easy watching the way computers are used(misused?) in Tamil cinema and as a software engineer, it wasn't easy to stifle a laugh when Dhanush rolled up his sleeves to start programming with a vengeance in Yaaradi Nee Mohini. I'm just saying that Tamil cinema when it does things right, should be given a chance. In this day and age when so many of us are in similar professions, there is nothing so inherently laughable about our actors portraying college graduates or professionals or scientists or using Google to look up something. After all, we have no difficulty accepting Denise Richards playing a scientist or Keanu Reeves playing a hacker. Why then is it so difficult to accept Jo as an IIT graduate? Or Surya talking about chemical reactions?

Does this attitude come about because we refuse to see the characters our actors portray as separate from the actors themselves? Or is it because our actors try to remain the same whatever the roles they take up? Surprisingly, I've seen this only in the US here, where the majority of the audience is made up of software professionals. Granted I haven't seen an equal number of films back home but the crowd was supportive and cheerful even during all those English phrases and American connections in Vaaranam Aayiram, when I caught it in Abhirami last November. But the same movie here would doubtless result in numerous catcalls and loud comments. While they themselves are professionals living in the US, why are so many viewers unable to accept our actors playing a similar role?

We always hear how Tamil cinema has to grow up. But there are times like these when it looks like its the audience that needs to grow up!


At 12:00 AM, Blogger Venkatrangan said...

read a lot of kamal haasan interviews, you can see his views on fans back in India and abroad, he says sometimes it is the too-educated who have problems in accepting this show!!!

At 1:09 AM, Blogger Rajesh Thiagarajan said...

I had a very similar incident when I watched Ayan here in Adelaide, Australia. Especially, in the pillayar idol scene there were a lot of remarks.

Passing loud comments during a movie has rarely worked for me (although there were a few real funny ones). Sometimes, I wish these people would just 'shut up'.

Another trend I noticed is that usually a very funny remark is followed by a number of really bad ones.


At 1:29 AM, Blogger srijithunni said...

When it comes to technical matters, it's the serious lack of research from the film maker, or the art director, that sort of creates such an image.

For instance, if you've seen 'Ramana' opening sequence, you look at Vijaykanth's laptop and you see Windows Media Player running and then you see him typing into it. You can't help suppress a laugh. Like the Yaaradi Nee mohini part you talked about. After watching the movie, my sister keeps teasing me that it is so easy to be a software engineer. You just have to be good at typing, she says.

Having said that, I think screen writers and dialogue writers also share the blame. One of the genuine writers who brought in technical / biological stuff very subtly and yet truthfully was Sujatha!.

Also the obsession with uneducated protagonists in Tamil Cinema is so much that such a character automatically becomes the underdog and the darling of the masses. I think the situation you describe is a result of that.

At 1:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact that the actors without a degree donning high-fi roles are somewhat funny. The way technology or qualification handled in Tamil cinema is amateurish.

One of my favorite line from Chandramukhi " he's Dr.Bradley's student, gold medalist, if Ravana has 10 heads with 10 brains, our Saravana has 1 head with all 10 brains" ..seriously I couldn't resist my laughter.

At 4:11 AM, Blogger D.E.V said...

if our audience are intellectual enough, we would not endure 90% of the rubbish coming out of tamil cinema yearly.

Audience need to grow up to accept intelligent movies and reject the bad ones..In tamil cinema, there is one profession which has always been accepted that is a Rowdy, forever and ever popular with every actor on screen. Our audince are so used to this low crass roles, that they can never accept our heroes potraying other professions, probably needs to take a few more movies for these heroes for the audeince to get used to it. But it's a different case for Kamal whom we can even take as a scientist or a rowdy or a villager and anything he says we lap it up. i think it has all has to do with the actor's image.

At 6:05 AM, Anonymous san said...


I agree with you on Rowdies. More than the audience, the flaw lies on the actors. Most of the actors can carry rowdy roles with ease and for many more it fits like a glove due to their bad looks. They are not versatile and it shows in their body language when they choose sophisticated/ non-rowdy roles. Vikram in King is one example where he looked misfit for the posh role.

At 7:34 AM, Blogger Vijay Kumar said...

I dragged a colleague of mine to 'Kushi' - this is back when it was first released and none of my usual cohorts were available. This was his first movie in years and it showed. There is this pivotal scene on a terrace where the two lead actors Vijay and Jo are studying but it leads to something else. The scene is on and my friend whispers in my ear - "Ivanga Physics student dhaane, yaen C++ book padikkaraanga?". "Adhu avanga elective, chumma iruya". He wasn't convinced. He kept mumbling "yadhaarthamaave illa" for the rest of the movie. But for that one flaw, he might have accepted Jo as a Physics graduate... I think!

At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Banu said...

IU would say Kamal looked very funny when he was using the scooter in Dasavatharamm and he always looked fake mouthing the so called Enligh accent. I would defnitely not tell the same about his other dialects. He has been brilliant with all other lcoal dialects. But American English is a big nono. At the same time, I really felt Surya did an awesome job in Ayan while speaking English and shifting gears to the local dialect.

And yes the Cahndramukhi one is too funny and that is typical P Vasu.

I am with Balaji in this when audience do not accept genuine things in the movie. There was no point in hooting in AYAN.
More than the actors when directors and dialogue writers do their research proper the YNM kindoff scenese donot pop up and annoy us. That way KV Anand has done his homework.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger ரவிஷா said...

I think more than accepting our actors to be educated in a movie, the actors do not portray themselves as that! If you have watched Indiana Jones or National Treasure, you would admire the way Harrison or Nicholas act in such a fashion because they do their home work and "act" as if they are the character! I cannot take an actor whose character has studied in the US for 3-4 years and pronouncing New York as "New Yoak" (in British accent) instead of saying it in American accent (Kandukondein Kandukondein is a good example).

It is always a tendency to comment on something if we know how a thing should look/feel like! And that's what we tend to do in the theaters when Danush pretents to be a programmer instead of a typist in YNM OR "Sharavana" in Chandramukhi claims to be Dr Bradley's Gold medalist student!

This argument holds good in another context in the way our actors talk in Brahminical accent in movies. They don't know the difference between Palakkad Brahmin and Tanjavur Brahmin; also in many movies Iyer family will cook Akkaravadisil (dish made by Iyengars)!

I would say, there should be a team of technical consultants required for a movie to provide accurate info on accents, technical terms used in the movie, portray a scientist as a scientist etc.

Like in Nayagan movie, "avanai nirththachol! naan niruththaraen!".

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous ram said...

nice post, BB. this happens back home in India as well. The biggest (inappropriate) laughs I remember were for Alaipayuthey, when Karthik Kumar says, "I'm doing my Masters in Ophthalmology, Princeton University." But I dont think its always "condescending." I remember talking to a bunch of friends after watching Alaipayuthey and I commented, "Enna daa, he sounded authentic. edhuku ivlo kindal?" From the responses, I just felt that it was more along the lines of, "Dey, peter udaathey maams!" more than anything else...I personally snicker only when technical goofs are glaring (like the Ramana scene) or authenticity is missing (Prashanth screaming at senior Doctors in a terrible scene in Jeans). that being said, I am a huuuuuuge fan of Kamal's English (favorites are Kuruthi Punal and Hey! Ram) :-)

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Hawkeye said...

The director has to pull it off. Can't rely on audience to grow up on their own when directors don't help them grow up. Ayan is a perfect example of that. Modern Theater movies in those days pulled off some concepts that were sophisticated for their age.

In Ayan - it was badly presented, hastily shown. It was so amateurish that it one was forced to think about such kind of concepts and thamizh movies. In showing a "sophisticated" concept the scene had everything but sophistication. The entire movie was in many ways afraid to shrug off its "cheri" roots. Everytime a sophisticated scene was shown it was followed up with a "enna thalai! ullara orey neruppaa keedhu theriyumaa"

I saw tomorrow never dies in ohio and most of the audience were hooting when denise was explaining nuclear stuff.

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous yasodha said...

It is not that we don't accept Jo as a an IIT'an, Balaji. We accept anything. But the problem is an IIT'an doesn't talk about that in the first few sentences to a guy.

If she just introduces herself as a Maya, a school teacher and mentions that she loves her job and if she tells that she is an IIT'an after she is asked, that will be more natural.

In dasavatharam, kamal mentioned that telugu and kannada have the same wriiten script. Which sounded more like "I'm clever, I have General Knowledge"

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Sreekrishnan said...

I depends on how you present it. Vaaranam Aayiram was a misplaced - you cant present english that way to tamil audience [ the dad son conversation ] and i think the one where Surya-Sameera spoke in english did strike a chord admits hooting..

Technical aspects ... are poorl done . .ramana for example where VijayKanth types alt alt and Enter where he brings up Windows Media PLayer.

Its the way a director frames it or the actor carries it. Remember Cryptography in Roja? That was the first branch if Computer Science i ever knew when i was in my 4th.

None of them could explain what it was then, and i was surprised eerytime he does something in the comp - everytime i watched the movie.

But still some of them have to grow up !

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The blu-ray scene in Villu, highlights the problem!!

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Arun Annamalai said...

Balaji, I would go with Ram's and Unni's comments. Half-assed technical stuff does not achieve immersion unless ofcourse the viewer's technical know-how is less which is not possible with people here in America. As far as filmmakers go, the target audience is always 80% B-C center for all commercial movies. To achieve Hollywood realism,the cost of a single movie frame for Tollywood is exponential, having said that there is scope for innovation with limited means but are IIT folks making movies? Perarasu and some DFtech guys make Captain's movies. A big criminal waster of technology is Shankar, Jurassic Park had Dinosaurs so Shankar says we too can have Dinosaurs in Jeans, in no relation to the script at all. Ditto with Anniyan/Matrix. When A center people watch these movies, the snickers start and then there are those B-C centre folks who don't understand/know depth or authenticity and who are jealous of english speakers and they say peter vudadhae. And so the world goes on. I just chill out when i watch our movies, it still is fun.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Raju said...

Nice post, Balaji.. but the audience's reaction is more like amusement rather than mockery, when they hear technical terms. The reason is, as you and others mentioned, it is very rare in tamil cinema. For long, I have had a grudge on our directors in not using technical terms intelligently to educate and surprise the audience. All they love to do is to flaunt their B.Sc., D.F.T. behind their names, but hardly any glimpse of what they studied can be seen.
'Invisible man' was out before our movies even started talking; When Disney was producing movies like 'Absent-minded professor', we were just coming out of mythological stories. We have always been lagging the Western cinama's technology by a good 20 years, at least. The directors and actors are stuck in their own world of trying to please the masses.
A couple of corrections in your post: In Ayan, the idol-making process is no chemical reaction; any material in fine powder form, when compressed to high pressure, forms a hard solid with little or no vapor pressure. Also, in Kaakha kaakha, Jo says "M.Sc. Maths, IIT Madras", not M.Tech. I smiled when I heard it first. The pride in her voice is unescapable. Though it is flaunting, it was a welcome change to the usual ways of trying to impress someone whom a girl likes. :)

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

As much flak as Pee Vasu deserves for the torture he has heaved on us, I vaguely remember seeing the "Bradley gold-medallist" scene in the Malayalam original as well. So that may not be his own "creation".

At 3:21 AM, Anonymous Priya said...

And the award for the worst use of science in all of tamil cinema - goes to Surya in Ayutha Ezhuthu

I paraphrase his view on romance -"Kadhal does not exist. We all exist to procreate. kadhal, keedhal, pattu, oviam, ellam bedroom la mudiradhuku. It's all related to hormones, verum organic chemistry -Testosterone, Oestrogen, Progestorone, X chromosome, Y chromosome,XY, YY.. mudinjuthu matter!"

Che, how deflating for his poor girlfriend to hear!

At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Sandya said...

Well, the inherent problem with us, (U.S. software folks and the lot!) is we think too high of ourselves and no matter who mouths what dialogue, it has to be below our level instantaneously. It's almost a given that we have to snigger and hoot, otherwise we would be looked down upon for not doing it.

But half of the blame falls on the movie industry as well. They continue to characterize our heroes, heroines (especially our supporting actors) as airheads who don't know the first thing about technology or even have a mere semblance of an education. All these years of bad characterizations (mounted on almost unbearable dubbing especially for heroines!).. you can only imagine why we as an audience can't stop sniggering even if we know that actor is quite genuine about what he is saying and doing in the film!..

Kadavule, engal paavangalai manniyungal! :-)

At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Infact we were seeing Alaipayuthe movie in sun TV after 6-7 years of its release. It is then my cousin pointed out the blatant mistake that Princeton university has no medical college !!

We will accept things when we are ignorant about it.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

venkat, maybe he saw one of his movies in the US :)

rajesh, i hate those comments and some of the ill-timed ones can really spoil the moviegoing experience for me :)

srijith, good point about the image cos the overwhelming majority of movies deal with technical stuff wrongly. and that rubs off on the few good ones too.

sujatha was a perfect example. he knew how to present complex stuff in an easy understandable way without dumbing it down :)

anon, that's what i mentioned about not separating the character from the actor. as long as the actor's convincing in the role, his having a degree or not shouldn't matter to us :)

skanda, i agree that the actor's image matters. i think there'll be a lot more sniggers if vijay talks technical stuff than some of the other actors. but i still can't understand the comments during 'ayan'. surya is probably one of the actors with a classy image and he wasn't spared :)

san, looks like the acting/body language of our actors is to blame. i guess they try to add heroism to all roles and that doesn't go too well with the technical/professional characters :)

vijaykumar, thanks for a hearty laugh. don't remember vijay-jo's concentration or the book but ur friend's question was hilarious :)

banu, i thing kamal can carry off english very well too. but i'm with u as far as 'ayan' goes. surya carried off both parts of his role well and k.v.anand had definitely done his homework and it showed :)

ravi, i've studied/worked/lived in the US for a lot more than 3-4 yrs and I still don't have an american accent. so i guess, as u say, we comment when something is different from what we expect even if what's on screen is real and quite possible.

excellent point on the consultants for the movies that deal with specific fields. when the people involved don't know much about the field, they should depend on these consultants. would increase the quality of the movie so much :)

ram, might be true among friends but most of it definitely seems condescending when heard in the theater. and i'm with u on laughing during some scenes(including the ones u mentioned). they deserve it :)

hawkeye, but why should talking about technical stuff automatically make everything sophisticated? in this day and age when education has a good reach, we have so many people interacting in english at work and conversing in their local dialect with friends, family, etc. that's what surya did too and his background(smart but involved in some lowlife activities) justified that :)

At 9:22 PM, Anonymous ram said...

another LOL comment i remember (maybe i read it right here in bbthots, i dont remember).

prabhu (in chandramukhi): saravanan, ungaluku e-mail la message vandhuruku

member of the audience: e-mail la message varaama masaal vadaiyaa varum?!

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

yasodha, don't remember exactly what she said but don't remember it being particularly odd. I guess I've to watch 'kaakka kaakka' again :)

sreekrishnan, yep, it all comes down to presentation. and sujatha had a part to play in 'roja' didn't he? as I mentioned earlier, he's one person who could bring in technical stuff in a sensible manner :)

anon, oh yeah I had a good laugh over that one :)

Arun, looks like the actors talking about things we know more about is what leads to these comments/sniggers. u're right, the B & C audience forms the majority of the viewing audience and since they probably know less about technology, the movie makers think they can get away with some real silly stuff :)

raju, I think there's a thin line between amusement and mockery and most of the guys I've seen cross that line. but I agree that the directors share the blame too. they too are condescending in the way they try to pass off some glaringly wrong technical stuff.

appreciate the corrections. could see the scientist in u in the first one and the tmdb in u in the 2nd :)

sridhar, don't remember it but will take ur word for it :)

priya, atleast that was put forward as 1 person's view. so mannichudalaam :)

sandya, wow quite an honest admission there. that was kinda what I was trying to say. just not so bluntly.

like most other commentors, u're right on the way our characters have been portrayed. still remember the movie where army officers didn't know what a password was. *shudder*

anon, didn't know it till u brought it up. guess that proves ur last line :)

At 2:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Banu/others who think that being in a country for some years can bring a mastery of a foreign language: have you heard Sonia Gandhi speak Hindi? She has lived in India for almost 4 decades but still her Hindi stands out against a Desi. Have you thought what would be the outcome if Tom Hanks/Tom Cruise/Mel Gibson talk in French/German or Hindi/Tamil. Would they be able to do atleast as close to what Kamal managed to do as Christian Fletcher and G.Bush ? Have you heard Penelope Cruz speak in English movies? Do you think that is a perfect American accent? She has been accepted as a mainstream Hollywood actress and won an Oscar recently. Btw how would Sivaji, MGR, Rajini fare when speaking English?
You cannot expect one to be perfect in a foreign language. But you can just look out for a plausible match of language/body language of the characters one is playing. Who else than Kamal has done so many variety of plausible roles? Can you try to find an equivalent to the following roles? then you will know why most people accept Kamal in any role compared to others.
Thoongathey Thambi Thoongathaey, Devar Magan – Posh/foreign graduated millionaire
Apporva Sahodarargal Appu
PunnagaiMannan – Chaplin Chellappa, dance master
Avvai Shanmugi –changing of masculine and feminine body language/voice nuances at the drop of a hat
Michael Madana Kama Rajan – Kameshwaran and again a posh millionaire
Thenali – Srilankan Tamil
Sathi leelavathi – Coimbatore Tamil
Salangai Oli – classical dancer
Rajaparvai – realistic portrayal of a blind man (compare to all other blind characters enacted on screen prior to this movie)

The list could go on ...

At 2:17 AM, Anonymous Yasodha said...

I also remember a friend who plays many music instruments say that in Hollywood movies and even cartoons, the way someone touched the guitar chords or keyboard keys is right or atleast passable.

In indian movies the instruments are just objects and the person would not have done any homework.

At 2:17 AM, Anonymous Yasodha said...

I also remember a friend who plays many music instruments say that in Hollywood movies and even cartoons, the way someone touched the guitar chords or keyboard keys is right or atleast passable.

In indian movies the instruments are just objects and the person would not have done any homework.

At 6:33 AM, Anonymous san said...


i agree with you. you should watch 'At First Sight', modern version of Raja Parvai. Val Kilmer is nowhere close to Kamal in acting as a blind man.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Don't insult Kamal by comparing him to Val Kilmer.

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


i wasn't insulting Kamal. that was just an example to say that not all hollywood actors are superior to local actors.

At 1:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tamil cinema refuses to grow up and in turn tugs & holds the audiences in the gutter.

The audience have multi-faceted expectations and Tamil movie- makers still continue to dish out formulaic entertainment disguised as cinema...

3 duets, 1 or 2 solo songs, 4 fights and a nicely tied up climax. This hasn't changed much one bit.

A movie is served.. the audience laps it up and when the curtain falls, all is well and good.

At 8:10 PM, Anonymous Prakash said...

Well, I was watching some program on the making of X-files, the movie. The film crew were going to shoot some scenes with the hero in front of a building, and I think the building was going to blow up or something. So some CGI work.

To get everything right about the background (e.g. shadows, lighting etc), the film crew first shot scenes of some people in front of the building. And later, they would shoot the hero in front of a green screen, and superimpose the two.

OK, so not a big deal, right? Even in our movies, they often shoot with doubles.

Well, they were shooting the scenes with the extras 10-11 months before they were going to shoot the hero in front of the green screen!!! So they knew a year in advance that they'd be shooting this scene. Nammoorla, they would have made 2-3 movies in that period!

So can't compare our movies to Hollywood in terms of production values, technical work etc. Content sariya irukka, then it's ok.

The problem is that our guys can't even get the content right :)

I saw a movie 'High and Low' by Kurosawa. It is maybe 40-50 years old. It's part drama, part crime investigation movie. I get mad at our guys only when I see such movies. There is nothing hi-tech about that movie. Any good filmmaker worth his salt should be able to make a movie like that.

Instead we get all the crappy Vijayakanth/Arjun movies where the ideas of our hero are just so stupid, and they are projected as being so clever instead.

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous palakad brahmin said...

Generally our cinema does not have logic.So no need to worry about.Just watch the movie and forget it.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Ven Sharma said...

The movie Dasavidaniya has a scene where Vinay Pathak, not only deletes an important file that he had worked on for his boss, but goes one step further and empties the recyle bin.
However the fact that Vinay Pathak takes a role of Amar Kaul a 37 year old accounts manager looks contrived. He looks more like a man in mid forties.

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Shiva said...

Most of the points made here are valid ... except the tamil movies are certainly not made for any of us bloggers. They are made for folks who don't put too much thought into this kind of criticism. They just come and try to enjoy the show. If it is a good entertainment that suits their taste, the movie is a hit. Otherwise it is a flop. I don't think any tamil producer or director really cares about what the bloggers like us are talking about ... yet.


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