Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya: Poetry

Gautham Menon can summon a particular variety of forcefulness in his narration. He almost seems to have the ability to call upon it at will. It is hard to determine the method or formula he uses that allows him to repeatedly and successfully connect the audience with the character's thought process. Is it the detail in the story? Is it the characterization? Is it voice-over that allows you a peep into the character's mind? The way he hints at a thought and then goes on to reinforce it and solidify it continually impressed me. Gautham seems to be a person who has seen quite a bit of life. And his experiences come out either as interesting stories, incisive dialogs (and the dialogs are fantastic in the movie) and quite simply wonderful moments. Which is why I think his movies are so powerful. And this movie was packed with so much power that I was swept off my feet and pulled into the vortex of his characters. It has been a long time since I loved a movie so much. The movie hits you the way love hits Silambarasan in this story.

Silambarasan has done a fantastic job. This is my second Silambarasan movie and I did not know the man could act so well. He plays a character that shows nervousness, hesitation, and instinctiveness in many wonderful ways. He mouths dialogs that are beautifully written and delivers them in a very convincing way. Agreed that Gautham had a big role to play here by etching out a splendid character. That apart, this is a rare good acting performance in Thamizh cinema. Many great actors would have been proud to have played 'Karthik' as well as Simbu has done it. In the first 30-45 minutes of the movie, you are into his head. You feel what he feels. Like a Vulcan mind blend. Gautham's awesomeness is not just the ability to keep it real but to fuse it with acceptable cinematic moments without seeming artificial. He has this knack of using words that trigger a specific emotion or a thought process that makes our mind feel like its racing through a range of emotions. The interval scene which ends with Trisha silhouette leaves us on an incredible high. Part of it is because of the words Silambarasan uses to seed the emotion in our mind - "what a woman saar ival".

The movie has all the elements of style that sets it a class apart from the run of the mill stuff. The songs, the picturization, choice of locations, Trisha's looks and expressions, her saree selection, her understated expressions, Simbu's shirt choices (I loved the array of checked shirts on display). And the movie is less crowded. Barring a few church scenes most frames had barely 2 to 3 people in them. Every scene is understated, underplayed and emotions are kept on a rigorous check. The movie says less but it makes you feel so much. There is a moment where Trisha asks Simbu in the second half: "It is such a happy moment to run into each other, no?". And for a moment you think Silambarasan is going to reply. His lips seems to be ready to move. But he looks down and then looks up. Does not say a word. But communicates so much. In the first half, all his nervous twitching and pacing down the gate of his house speaks volumes without saying a word.

This movie was poetry. A rare kind of poetry. Typically never found in movies. When 'Kathalukku Mariyadhai' was released, I hated it. I was unable to say why that movie sucked and what could have made it better. A contrast that I found in this movie that made a difference was the shades of gray in Trisha's commitment to the relationship. Both men and women enter a relationships with a significant amount of doubt and double-mindedness. Trisha plays a character who never settles into a steady state. The vicissitudes of her thought process and the fickleness of her resolve cause a degree of uncertainity that adds a very interesting dimension to the movie and probably makes it more in touch with reality. It not only keeps us on our toes but also gives Simbu a chance to react to situations where the 'near' in near-certain asumptions assumes magnified importance and allows for a quick disintergration of the said assumption.

Gautham seems to have found a way to make boy-meets-girl love stories less cliched. A genre that has become jaded because of movies like 'Kaadhalukku Mariyadhai'. He says a similar (certainly not the same) story in a the most mature way imaginable. Movies are meant to be shown this way and stories are meant to be told with this kind of passion and force. I loved the second half as much I loved the first half. The way the story ended made me appreciate the movie even more. It would not have worked with any other ending. I agree with Jessie. I love the pain. Yes! Loved this pain so much.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Movie Reviews

Naanayam: This was not a bad movie at all. Adapted plot-for-plot from James Hadley Chase's book "My Laugh Comes Last" it captures most of the elements of the genre. I always wanted someone to make Chase books into movies. He was my favorite author during school days and has written books that have fantastic plots in them. Prasanna and Sibiraj perform adequately. There is less scope for Sibiraj in this movie to show his Sathyaraj genes. Did not appreciate that this song was copied from my favorite song.

Goa: Chennai-28 had a good mix of a great story and lots of 'kalaai'. The 'kalaai' was icing on the cake that made you go 'wow'. But the story was everything. Goa is just 'kalaai' and no story. Agreed that some of the nakkal was totally awesome. However, after a while the movie is unable to ride on just the 'nakkal' part. In fact I'd say that Venkat Prabhu wasted too much 'nakkal' on this movie and could have spared it for some other movie.

Thamizh Padam: I was super impressed with this movie. As a spoof it is easy to be superficial and stop with the obvious. But like Hot Shots, this is not only a clever movie but very wicked. I laughed out so loud during several scenes. Its a tragedy that this was released the same time as Goa because they carry similar themes. It is also a tragedy that the two movies were not combined and made into one better product. Some of subtlety in Thamizh Padam is waay too cool. I never thought I'd see this sort of nakkal in thamizh movies. Certainly recommend this one.

Kutty: Reject.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Puli Maram

Contemporary logic avers that keeping up with current affairs and being knowledgable are the same thing. Current affairs is delivered to these knowledge seekers via news media. The same news media that has in the last few days spent countless hours analyzing the effectiveness of Tiger Wood's apology. How does anybody measure the effectiveness of an 'orchestrated' apology? Doesn't the fact that it is anaylzed make the apology look more fake? Who are these specimens who seems to care deeply about Tiger Wood's apology? Why does it matter to them? Are these the same set of people who seek to know current afairs like it was some exam syllabus they need to cover.

Set aside for a moment that golf is more boring than watching cow dung slapped on the wall get dry. And is probably less entertaining than watching news about golf - which I can tell you is mind-numbingly boring. Are these current-affairs junkies following Tiger Woods because of his "eka pathni vradhan" skills? What does the fact that he screwed around have anything to do with his golf skills? Is it even relevant to the "sport"? So do these people realize that Tiger Woods is a filthy rich man? Rich men sleep around with as many women they want because they can. The non-filthy rich fill the bank balance void by watching current affairs, getting enraged and analyzing apologies.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I often wonder - are swear words used because their meaning is offensive (or) are they used to flag the recipient and make him aware that he is being sworn at. The key question is do swear words need to have an offensive meaning in order for the swearee to be offended? To go a step further do the swearer and swearee need to be aware of the meaning of the swear words in order to give and take offense respectively? Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not the case.

Consider the honorable rikshawman. He says LKB with so much spashtam that you want to stop and admire the raagam and bhaavam with which the word was said. He says 'L' (pauses) 'K' (pauses) and 'B'. The pause he puts are apparently for grammatical precision and is a key indicator that he is a puristic. Nobody else says it this way. An english-educated person can never be so eloquent. A college-going engineer is not necessarily this precise and classic. He often says it quickly with no respect to the 'kalachaaram' of the word. That is because a college student picks up this word because he is required to. Otherwise his social skills are brought into question. The rickshaw-kaaran, on the other hand, uses this because he needs to. Very similar to why silk-smitha had to show 'kavarchi' because the story demanded it. However, has the rickshaw-kaaran paused to wonder about the expletive he just ejected into the outside world. What business does a rickshaw-man bred and steeped in thamizhnes have with a indhi word. isn't it a 'vada mozhi sol'? All he ended up saying was - pubic hair

pubic hair.

Really! How offensive is that? All he ended up saying was that the other person was a curly hair that will rarely get shaved, oiled, or combed. Sort of like the hair on T.Rajendar's or Thyagarajan's head. So what? Where is the offense here? Who would be offended at being curly, unoiled, and un-combed. How is this word different from 'left monidal shoulder clavicle' (LMSC). All it needs for LMSC to be a swear word is silly 'vilambaram'. Advertisement that it is a "bad word". It need not have an offensive meaning at all. It need not mandatorily have any meaning at all. It should just be a group of words. What makes it a horrible swear word is a simple recognition that a person shouting LMSC is intending to offend. This is all the recipient of LMSC needs to know in order to be offended. The meaning of LMSC is immaterial. If its widely regarded as a swear word, people will use it all situations ranging from fights to mafia wars to office meetings (in order to appear casual and informal).

On the subject, have you wondered why all swear words are creatively limited to just sex. The most commonly used phrase by human beings is "What The 'act-of-having-sex'". It is often abbreviated as WTF for added effect. Humans say "oh! act-of-having-sex! I forgot my pencil box". Otherwise they say "The movie was act-of-having-sex awesome". They agree with other humans by saying "the-act-of-having-sex yeah!". Somehow the 'act-of-having-sex' has become an easily leverageable word. It can be used as a swear word by calling someone a "person who indulges in acts-of-having-sex". Or can be used to appreciate with "you are the-act-of-having-sex (add_gerund) good".

The offensiveness of a word can only be increased in a specific dimension. It is by pulling relatives in the mix. Sisters, mother, father, source of birth is the general direction in which the swearer progresses in order to increasingly offend the swearee. The closeness of the relative is directly proportional to the severity of the insult. Look at this situation (audio not safe for work) where the swearer insists, quite strongly and repeatedly, that a particular gentleman's reproductive organ is in reality a property of the gentleman's sibling. Which is why I think swear words will never be popular in the simian world. Or for example: I am pretty sure if Hyenas began to speak they would not be offended by these swear words at all. They would probably use words like "person who never had sex" "celibate" or "person who only marries once" to offend their fellow hyenas.

I suspect swear words will decline and become extinct among humans as well. How long can the same set of worlds continue to be cool? In a hundred years when it has penetrated into daily vocabulary and is used in contexts like "Do you 'person-who-has-sex' take Elizabeth as your 'act-of-having-sex' wife" the words will loose its sheen and probably will be discarded for more creative insults. I wonder what those insults might be though. Probably the generation gap will not allow me to appreciate the beauty of it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Aayirathil Oruvan Revisited

It has been 2 weeks since I saw the movie and I still can't get my mind off it. The barbaric second half is so powerful that I could not get those images out of my mind. The first half was reasonably interesting and set-up the 'treasure hunt' part of the movie. The second half was really the payload. It goes into uncharted territory for thamizh cinema. I still have my criticisms. The main ones being the poor thamizh pronunciation, poor casting (of chics in a man's role) and needless use of cheap graphics. But the fact that someone could conceive of such a storyline amazes me. I was lucky enough to catch the unedited version of AO in theaters and it is waayyy better than the edited version.

I still think the reviews were unfair to the movie. I don't think that Selvaraghavan needs a course in screenwriting etc. I think that criticism is unspecific and harsh. Neither did I think the first half was about any sexual chemistry between Karthi, Reema and Andrea. I am not sure why reviewers (drunk in bollywood love stories) ever got that sort of an impression as the first half wasn't about that at all. Unfortunately the (lack of) depth of thamizh knowledge among reviewers is acting as a gating function to this movie. But then I have to confess, I am super impressed with the movie. [side note: Did anybody else think that the last scene with 'pemmane' song had references to cruelty inflicted on eelam thamizhs by IPKF/Sri Lanka ?)

So I have watched every single interview on AO (via You tube) and listened to the songs about 1000 times. The top 3 songs for me are as follows

1. Oh Eesa

(didn't realise it was a remix of 'Srinivasa Govinda Venkataramana Govinda' devotional song until it was pointed out to me). Fantastic video and conceptualization.

2. Thai Thindra manne

What an awesome song!?! the emotion just completely consumes you.

3. Un Mela Aasai Dhaan

4. Pemmane

Purely because PBS sings this song.

Friday, February 12, 2010


'Archanai' in any temple is a series of praises sung on the deity of the temple. The praises are usually in the form of 'alternate' names that describe attributes of the deity. Thousand or 2 thousand years ago, when Yagna Shaalas slowly transformed into the modern day temples that we see today, Archanai become a much shorter, quicker and simpler process. However, since the rules did not permit a priest (archagar/bhattar/gurukkal/bhattacharya etc) to both initiate an archanai for his own benefit and also perform the archanai himself (and this is taught to the priest during his schooling), the olden day priest waited for a bhaktha to come and initiate an archanai. This practice continues until today.

In both the Yagna Shaala archanai and a temple archanai, once the priest receives a request, he proceeds to do what is called a "Sankalpam". The priest asks the bhaktha to introduce himself: "who is initiating this session of praise for the Lord and what is the purpose". The Bhaktha dutifully answered their name and purpose. [Interesting side-note is that in the last 20-30 years Brahmins have names that are very different from their 'Dasya' name - a name kept during Upanayanam. I have seen some very elderly priests get irritated and ask "Rajesh'a evanda avan 'rajesh'? Nithyasoori peyara idhu?". and it is hilarious to see the confusion and terror in Rajesh's face as he tries to figure out what is being asked of him. I have been in that situation and had to be helped out]. Since today's bhakthas don't have a clue as to why they are initiating an Archanai, the priest does a "Recommended Settings" Archanai with "Dheerya, Dhairya, Vijaya, Arogya, Aishwarya .... abhiVridhYartham" as the purpose.

Observations on the answers to the "who is initiating the archanai" is interesting. I recently saw an elderly 'vidhvith' (who was substituting as a priest) get totally confused by an answer and had to be told what it meant. And the consequent thought-train is what led me to this post. It is hard to imagine what a priest's assessment would be of the differences between the 'theory' they learnt in school vs what is actually in practice. But we can always hazard a guess. In a modern-day temple, the priest puts a plate in front of the Bhaktha and says "peyar naksathram sollungo" (introduce yourself). In the last few decades responses such as "Perumaal peyarukke pannungo" or "Saami peyarukke pannidunga iyere" etc have started coming from the Bhakthas. After the incident referred above, I realized after mulling about it for a few months that such a response really may not the answer the question. The archanai or praise was always going to be for the God. There was never any question about that. Unless the Bhaktha presumptuously thought there was a possibility that the priest would sing 10/28/108/1008 words in the Bhaktha's praise, he need not remind the priest who this archanai is for. The question was always "who is initiating this archanai". Answering it as "God" is kinda vague/stating the obvious/being recursive unless the bhaktha is deeply philosophical and is indicating that his 'antharyamin' is the trigger. It is a totally different question whether this Bhaktha does not want to gain any benefits out of this. Stating that to the priest would save the "dheerga... dhairya.." etc that follows.

I guess my train of thought was along the lines of the amount of variations we have internalized over time, that we don't even know about. It would be an interesting exercise to see what would happen if a priest was transported to this day and age from (lets say 1250 A.D.) or - if we were transported back to that time.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Yet Another Liberal View

Co-Authored/Ubayam Murungakka & Alan Smithee

We are not disposed to identify with liberal causes. The imagined portraits of a liberal society may often inspire sudden bouts of inclusiveness. Mumbai is for all Indians, New Jersey is for all Americans, Madras is for all Amits, the views expressed in this post is for all liberals and Rajan Zed's statements are from all Indians and so on. Delusions of universal citizenship and a "global community" do not start or end here.

Upon this premise of tolerance in all contexts and places rests a presumed neutrality; the urge to place all cultural blemishes on an equal footing. A statement like "A citizen of Riyadh gouged the eyes of a cabbie who dared to look at his fifth wife. This is barbarous" needs to tempered with "just like the villagers in the Chambal forest ostracizing a widow for sleeping with her brother in law." While a logical man may baulk at equating Math errors in Rutherford's atomic model to the'thappu kanakku' put by Mannangatti when he placed his hand on the hips of inspector Sengootuvan's wife - a liberal, who thinks neutrality is everything, such equations are axioms. Such self-assumed global citizens also have the propensity to hunt for causes and third party outrage. Result: A presumably straight man in Bombay gets wet dreams about Chuck and Larry in Dublin.

And there is more.

Consider fictitious liberal - a Mylapore "cross-belt"/desi export to the New World who tend to do the below, while keeping in mind that truth is more annoying than fiction:

This liberal tosses the unfashionable Thiru Mangalyam into a cupboard. Exchanging rings are suddenly a tradition, a must and very cool because the anything from the west is cool (P. Vasu is remaking Chinna Thambi where Prabhu unknowingly slides a ring up Ghusboo's finger). They Insist that golu is too 'desi' or for 'conservatives' and act all environmental about 'Deepavali' (wonder incredulously as to why child laborers aren't forced into spelling bee or "Sun TV dance shows" instead. After all survival is so over-rated.). When they visit the temple, they aresure to apologize for it: "The Food there is good, you know". Whatever they do they will never wish "Happy Pongal' to the Thamizhan in the next cubicle. But they will croak "Happy Holidays" and celebrate "the Christmas spirit." In order to get laid they will make asinine claims such as "honesty is God" (the inevtiable conclusion from that is - Krishna and Christ were moonangilass arai-drowser buddies), and visit the neighborhood church on New Years. The ones featured in Dan Brown's novels are in their "10 places to visit before the visa expires" list and photos of solitary birds on big Churches find their way into Flickr stream). When they do get married to "spiritual but not religious (or) traditional with modern outlook and broad-minded" partner they will buy holiday trees and Santa-gifts for their children while protecting them from a shocking secret about Santa : He is not real. Like it were some Thangamalai ragasiyam. The non cross-belt liberal go a little bit more to ape the west by abandoning "amma/appa" for "mummi thittum" and "enga daddy'kku karuvaadu'na romba ishtam..".
We encourage these specimens to respond to Paul Dinakaran's "karagoshangalai ezhuppungal" call today because their kids and grand kids (if they ever are born, what with abortion on demand and shit) are bound to answer it in any case.

Naturally, an illiberal organization like the Shiv Sena appeals to us. My Name is Khan is funded by Javed Miandad's Sambandhi aathu Manushaal. Bollywood tries hard to convince the uneducated Indian that all Indians and Pakistanis too are bhai-bhai, fractured by the scheming British*. Not to mention that such stunning sophistry is constructed on the similarity in the taste of Biriyani across the border. We may even forgive the Sena for riots against Thamizhs and cheer them on as they burn the effigies of the Khans.

* We think that British saved India from the Mughals and prevented it from being plundered by Aurangazeb but that is for a different post.