Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book: Conversations With Maniratnam

Baradwaj Rangan has written a very good book titled 'Conversations With Maniratnam". Rangan has a lot of strengths which he has used to good effect in this book. Some aspects of this book pleasantly surprised me and some aligned with my criticisms of Rangan's work overall as a film critic. But lets start with the positives.

This book took me back in time and made me relive the joys of watching movies during my childhood years. While in college, my favorite movie director was Manirathnam. And this trait I probably share with  almost everybody else in my generation of Thamizh people. Manirathnam was the reason many urban madras Thamizh boys started tuning into Tamil movies as opposed to limiting themselves to just watching English movies. Rangan's book drills and explores deep into a lot of decisions that Manirathnam made in his career as a director. I so wanted to know those details. A lot of of the information revealed in the book was new to me. Rangan is definitely a thinker and has a taste that articulates how Madras boys felt about movies and Manirathnam in general. Usually in interviews the interviewer asks a lot of bland questions that have already been asked by several magazines and news channels. This leads to stock answers and sound bytes. To Rangan's credit he never asks whether Nayakan was lifted from Godfather (though Mani brings it up). He doesn't even mention Amorres Perros. I liked that.

Several times Rangan pushes Mani in a specific angle or direction. This actually brings out a lot of Mani's true opinions and thoughts that otherwise might not have come if he hadn't been pushed.  In those moments you realize that Mani is a sharp thinker and a remarkably balanced person. The chapter on Iruvar was the longest and my favorite (disclaimer: Maybe its my biased view - I have a special affinity to that movie). Every chapter had questions that weren't asked that I badly wanted to ask. But among those - Kannathil Mutthamittal is the most under-explored chapter.  Nayagan was before my time (i.e before  I learned to enjoy movies or appreciate a director's work in the movie), so I was unable to resonate with Rangan's viewing experience upon release. If I may be bold enough to say so - I wouldn't even rank Nayakan among Mani's top 3 movies. But I get the point behind the chapter and why people like it. A.R.Rahman's foreword was actually very impressive. It was a great start to the book.

Rangan's introduction piece could have very well ruined the book. It was very unreadable and made me think he was pulling his usual problem of writing normal English and then replacing all regular words with synonyms from Barron's wordlist.(there is sentence that goes "just as words bind themselves better to pristine parchment than to palimpsests.."). No one writes like this. at least not real people. Certainly no Madras boy uses words like 'peripatetic' in a real verbal conversation. I don't buy the whole 'this comes naturally to him'. Rangan also over-pushes the 'madras based movies' of Manirathnam. Mani had a perspective of a urban filmmaker that was absent then. But barring Agni Nakshathiram, I cant think of a Madras movie by Mani.

I remember reading somewhere that the easiest way to irritate a poet is to explain the poem to him. I guess this extends to movies and other creative streams as well. Rangan at many points in time tries to instantiate or interpret or explain scenes and other 'directorial touches' to Mani. Maybe I am over-interpreting this, which would be ironic, but I could feel Mani's rising irritation as he tries to respond to Rangan's line of questions on this angle. This lead me to another nit about the book. However, before going further one must appreciate Rangan's integrity in reproducing the content into the book in a honest way that allowed me to express the nit. Rangan, as his is style, overreaches for underlying message or subtext in movies. A few times he does catch what the director is trying to say between the lines. But many times he reads into things which simply aren't there (or wasn't conciously intended by the director). I don't think he overreaches because he wants to position himself differently from other critics. Its probably some over-enthusiasm to spot clues and artistic touches that he believes the director has left for us to pick up. Every time when he (a) tries to join different movies under a single theme or narrative or (b) over-interpret the use of color and costume choices Mani pushes back. There is a point where Mani says "if you see it that way I'll take it"..I also thought the 'nallavana kettavana' narrative that Rangan tries to arc across all Mani movies was slightly over stretched. This kind of ruined the last 3-4 chapters for me. In these chapters Rangan began to narrow down on the metaphor more than the real movie. I was very glad to hear Mani's perspective on Raavanan. Which as I had hoped was very different from Rangan's and many other's interpretations of the movie. Rangan for some reason liked this movie, which I thought was a really bad movie and kept pressing on  metaphors to the point where Mani had to stop him from doing so. Having said that Rangan did manage to squeeze out a confession from Mani that Aishwarya Rai wearing the white salwar was indeed a metaphor for purity ( I didnt think of that as any more than a good color for that kind of train shot). So he got one back from Mani there.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would certainly recommend that people read it. It allows you to re-enjoy the moviesvia the eyes of a the film maker.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Breaking Tradition

Ever since Annachi at Oddessey Saloon was forced to flee the city because he had borrowed too many loans that he couldn't repay, Oddessey has not been the place I used to love. I broke the long held tradition of doing haircut at Oddessey on the day of landing. 

Not only did I go back to my 90s haunt Kerala Saloon in Pondey Bazaar, I postponed the haircut to the 2nd day after landing (first day being Vijayadasami which equals ban on haircut/shave). With this great break from tradition, its all new territory now. Anything can happen.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I had such low expectations going into this movie (because I had seen bad reviews) that the first half surprised me. At the interval point I was like "Not bad. This is turning out to be a good movie". And the second half was a drag. I am not able to put my finger on it - but K.V.Anand and Shankar make similar sort of movies. Both have the same formula, high-budget, social themes stuff their story with every possible piece of entertainment there is. But Shankar's movies aren't boring. This one was. Maybe its the bad songs. Maybe its the 'I don't care about DNA manipulation' feeling.

I like Ko a lot. Ayan was so-so. This one seemed better than Ayan. But thats about it. Kajal Agarwal is "takkar figure ba" category and smiles beamingly even in 'mandaya podraa' and other assorted grave scenes. I am her big fan now. Surya does well. But this is the same Surya we see in every movie. The double action technology was awesome. At many points it didn't feel like same actor was playing both the parts.

Oru dhaba pakkalam.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Saniyan Pudicha Amrikkan Desis who can't vote but support Obama

The worst category of desis I had seen in the past were Amway Desis with no money, who ask other desis with no money to buy Amway products that no one needs. They meet you in Walmart, in bank, in temple and torture you with this.

That was until Obama came into the political scene. Now there is a new category of saniyan pudicha desis who don't have a vote asking other voteless desis to vote for Obama who will screw the green card out of their voteless bottoms and ship them back to their country. These desis are all over Facebook polluting your timeline by calling the debates as won even before Obama saapadu has jeernichified.

Mitt Romney wants to kick out illegal immigrants with no education and no use to the economy. He wants to stamp a green card to an employment letter if you have a college degree that this country considers productive (read as the science/engineering based degrees that the annoying desis-with-no-vote have). He may pass bill HR3012 that may accelerate the green card process of annoying-desis-with-no-vote. He will outsource jobs to India. This means the annoying-desis-with-no-vote will have family members who will get more jobs, more money inflow into India etc. 

Meanwhile Obama will block bill HR3012 that will ensure annoying-desis-with-no-vote will not get a green card. Obama will also not outsource jobs to India. This means that when annoying-desis-with-no-vote get deported to India they will have no jobs to search for. Obama will support illegal immigrants because they come from a community that has a huge vote bank. That community is a soranai-ulla-community which cares for people who come from their country. They remember that they were once an illegal immigrant and vote to help their bretheren.. Meanwhile soranai-ketta annoying-desis-with-no vote dont care if people who come from their country get a green card or not. Once an annoying-desi-with-no-vote gets a green card he/she only worries about useless topics like global warming, pro-life and other issues that masturbate their ego.

So annoying desis-wih-no-vote continue to post Facebook and twitter messages praising Obama to the sky. They talk about gay rights, pro-life, Libya, healthcare plans and other totally useless things.Thattula soru adhuva podum?  Obama will ship their ass back to India and voteless desis will remain jobless desis talking about pro-life, Libiya etc in a tea kadai back home. 

p.s1: HR 3012 was introduced by a Republican senator. It has democrats backing it as well. But its made no progress in a while to getting passed. 

ps2: I dont care about the specific policies of the political parties of this foreign country. My uber point is that voteless desis are irrelevant and unimportant in the US political discourse. Rightly so. Them discussing these issues 24x7 as if their lives depended on it is irritating enough for me to mock them. I find Obama desi supporters more annoying than Obama himself.  The specific immigration point was a sub-point in the larger narrative. I don't care if it turn out to be false. It is an exaggeration to point out to voteless desis that they are irrelevant and stupid. And that their attempts analyze political news in the US is like a nerd kid trying despoly to be among the cool hip kids and somehow be considered relevant. In the larger scheme of things there is no opinion least important than a desi with no vote. Just that their ego refuses to let them accept it. knowing that one is unimportant requires a level of humility and maturity that is sorely lacking. Hence my anger. I am more willing to be patient with people who truly understand the futility of this and know that they do it for entertainment or as an ego massage (similar to the pleasures of gossiping).

p.s3: Yes, I am an awesome Hypocrite. Knock yourself out.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Selectors Managing Retirement Of Senior Players

"If a tree falls in an uninhabited forest and no one heard it and no one reported it, did the tree really fall?" is a upanishad statement that most people have heard in some form or the other by now. This blog's favorite topic has been to track 'spreading of narratives'. This mainly involves psychological tricks that a few profit seekers use to commit less intelligent people to an opinion and in-turn make them become serious evangelists of that opinion. This brings us to the opening statement of the blog. If no one heard it and no one can ever hear it or see it - how can you prove its true. This is the corridor of uncertainty that the media operates in.

I am pretty sure the previous bunch of selectors had regular conversations with Srinath, Kumble, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and now Sachin and Sehwag. These players longevity and retirement and terms of endearment must have certainly been discussed during those meetings. For example - we can be reasonably certain that Srikkanth and Co knew exactly what Dravid and Laxman's retirement ideas were before the start of the England series. The two players knew what they needed to do to retire in their own terms and the selectors knew what they players wanted to do before calling it a day.  Even if one is not sure of it they must have enough doubt on the issue before they can go and claim that the selectors never had these conversations. This is where dumb people tend to differ.

The media know that these discussion were happening and the selectors and players are doing what they are supposed to be doing. But they can't drive their agenda and the news treadmill with that sort of crystal clear logic. There are thousands of idiots who watch news 24x7 thinking its a source of 'knowledge'. These idiots argue about the news they see on TV and the fake issues the media makes them argue on. they argue it with their friends, colleagues and other random passerbys. Because dumb people are people too. And they have large egos to masturbate on. Arguing on non-existent political and cricketing issues is the biggest masturbation of them all. So the media does the smart thing of keeping people on this treadmill. This tactic is very similar to the way game shows ask you send SMS with the answers to the dumbest questions in the world - so that mobile operators can make money.

So what the media does is spread the narrative that selectors haven't talked to the players and haven't discussed their retirement plans with them. They enlist partners-in-crime who will add fuel to the fire. The media knows that the selectors or players can neither confirm nor deny that this took place. While this always means that whatever you are refusing to confirm or deny did indeed take place, the reality is that players/selectors know that by either confirming or denying they are put in a position where they have to (a) explain what the details of the discussion was about or (b) deny something about it. So players and selectors know well to shut up. The media knows this well and so will exploit it. Which brings us to dumb cricket article writers who express opinions on this.

The dumbness lies in not knowing the difference between two things; (a) the discussion between selectors and cricketers never took place and (b) the discussion happened but you weren't told about the details because you are unimportant. In most cases (b) is the truth. But people find it hard to swallow 2 things - (i) they are not important and (ii) they don't have information.  They assume that they are the most important person on the planet and they compensate for (ii) by making up their own facts. And the media kindly steps in to help them do that. This is why you see the irony of seeing selectors being accused of being too lenient on Laxman for giving him a long rope in Australia and 2 months later selectors were accused of poorly treating Laxman to an extent that made him quit before his time was up. Anytime you see someone arguing passionately that the selectors aren't managing senior cricketer's retirement very well and aren't talking to players you are seeing a patent idiot who is no more than a talking head for the media.