Saturday, 30 March 2013

My perspective on Tamil Cinema

About two months ago, I watched two Tamil movies - David and Kadal in two consecutive days. Most of the content in this post was written on the subsequent day after watching the movies, but I just got the time to complete this post and publish it. Honestly, In the past six months, I have watched more movies (about 70) than I have watched in the past six years. Before I begin, I would like to tell you a few words about myself, something close to a disclaimer:

  1. I am not a fan of any actor or director in the Tamil cinema industry. 
  2. I watch movies on an 'as-is' basis, making no assumptions of my own. 
  3. The actors or their looks doesn't matter to me at all.
  4. History doesn't matter. How good or bad their acting has been in their previous movies is literally of no concern to me. Only the one in currently in question counts.
  5. I look for 'acting' and not 'performance', there is a subtle difference between the two.
  6. I am no one to judge a movie, neither do I understand the art of film making, nor do I have any experience in directing/acting even in a short film. But I guess you wouldn't disagree with most of my views.

There are certain things that I expect from the movie I watch. My rating for a movie is based on a number of factors. I try to completely indulge into the movie for the ~150 mins that I spend at the cinema hall. Throughout this post, I will be giving examples of some of the movies that I have felt to be exceptionally good or bad to help you get a better idea. Here are some of the core aspects that I look for in a movie:

  • Justification: Why did the director decide to make this movie?
  • Intent: What is the movie trying to tell me? Is it a complete entertainer, or a movie with a message?
  • Genre: I would like to classify the movie to a particular genre, but combining two genres would be perfect too. Hollywood movies do this in a wonderful way. Directors of Tamil cinema have this practice of combining all possible genres into a movie - they call this one a 'Masala' movie.
  • Immersion: How far does the movie indulge me into itself? (A perfect example of this was the Edhir Neechal [1968] movie. Nagesh's performance was so brilliant that he completely became one with the character that he played).

Every movie is known better with the actor who plays the main protagonist, than being known by the director who actually made the film. So I guess it would be fair to start with the protagonist (always male in Tamil cinema). So here's what I expect from the lead male character(s):

1. Please do not show any superhuman stunts unless you are making a superhero movie.
2. A lead male character doesn't always need to be a protagonist. The audience have grown out of the 'Truth alone triumphs' concept and are looking for something different. This was wonderfully shown in Mankatha by Ajith and Arjun.
3. I look for the acting, and not the hero/villain stuff. Switching sides once every few movies can be really cool (I would really like to see Vijay or Ajith with all their 'Gethu' in a negative role).
4. Opening song or an opening fight sequence totally sucks.
5. Don't carry over the same attitude or 'Gethu' in every movie.
6. Different costumes/roles/characters would be great. Kamal Haasan is known for it, Vikram has done it in Deiva Thirumagal, Sethu, Anniyan, Pithamagan, etc. and Ajith has done it too in Villain, Red and Citizen.
7. I would love to see the hero being portrayed something other than a jobless person, mechanic, or a college student. Jeeva did well as a Journalist in Ko, Kamal as a scientist in Dasavatharam, Madhavan as an author in Kannathil Muthamittal, Samudrakani as a school teacher in Saatai were very realistic.

Now for the lead female character(s):

1. Having a character a movie doesn't actually mean that she has got a character. Almost all tamil movies portray the heroine having a dumb personality. Jyothika's character, for example, was really well sketched in Mozhi.
2. If there is no reason to have the lead female in a movie, remove the character. I still don't understand the purpose of Kajal Agarwal's character in Thupakki. Her presence only made things worse.
3. Let her make an impact: If there's a female character, use her well. Make sure that she too has a say in the plot and the way things turn out in the movie.
4. Women aren't stupid: Vidya Balan played a brilliant role in Kahaani. Show women as highly intelligent creatures, as much as you show the hero to be.
5. Treat them equally: There haven't been a lot of movies made give as much emphasis to the heroine than to the hero. I liked Poda Podi just because the heroine was given equal priority.
6. Truth hurts: A heroine doesn't always need to be a rich girl with fair complexion. Anushka was shown as a prostitute in Vaanam and I thought she did really bring out the emotions of the character she played. It is worth a mention here that Sangeetha did a wonderful role in Pithamagan.
7. Enough 'Item' roles: Close shots, partial nudity or exposing their body should not be done to show the heroine as an 'Item'. It would make more sense if their role is so compelling to show them that way (like Vaanam).

Some suggestions that could be adopted in the future:

1. 1 Hero + 1 or more Heroines + 1 comedian + 1 or more villains = FAIL. There has been infinite permutations and combinations of this concept since the dawn of cinema and it simply doesn't appeal anymore.
2. Multi-starers are the way to go - Bollywood has realized this and almost all of the upcoming movies have 2 or more male actors teaming up. I would love to see a similar shift in Tamil cinema too.
3. A supernatural movie wouldn't be bad, given that it falls into proper places of justification, intent and genre (as mentioned above) with the appropriate cast and exceptionally great screenplay.
4. One thing at a time - This again reflects on the genre, but cramming too many genres into a movie often makes it look messy. One such example is Varanam Ayiram - I didn't know what to look for in the movie - was it the emotion between the son and dad? The love story? The action sequence at Kashmir? Or the emotional breakdown after Sameera Reddy's death? Well, give me a break!
5. A good story line is not actually necessary - While it is hard to come up with a totally fresh or different movie, a repetitive story with a minor twist might just be able to pull it off. But the screenplay makes all the difference. We saw this in Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya - it was the same old love story but brilliant, although being heavily criticized for Trisha's character in the movie.
6. Punch dialogues aren't so cool - While they worked out in the 90's while Rajinikanth was still young, punch dialogues delivered by the actors today can often be related with Captain Vijaykanth's.
7. A good fight sequence doesn't mean people or objects (like cars) flying around. I wonder how a normal actor becomes a superhero during the fight sequences. The audience of this generation isn't so stupid to believe it. Watching the trailer of Alex Pandian fed me with enough bullshit, that it made me decide against watching the movie at the cinemas.
8. Whoever invented the 'Dishum' sound for a punch? Every time I hear that, I get an itchy feeling. A fight sequence can be much better without the sound effects.
9. Inclusion of songs - This is perhaps the single most thing that frustrates me while watching a movie. I wonder if the songs could be included as a background score, and keep the story ticking along with the songs. This was wonderfully done in Slumdog Millionare by Danny Boyle and it went horribly wrong in Kadal, which isn't even worth mentioning here.
10. Know when the time is right: I wouldn't like to watch a movie that drags, but we've seen in movies like Nadodigal that even movies with long running times can be good too. Yet, I feel most of the movies have a lot of fillers that could be eliminated.
11. Movies completely made with graphics/animation is still a distant dream in the Tamil film industry, while Roadside Romeo was a brave attempt in Hindi, but failed unfortunately. Naan E (dubbed), on the other hand, really did well.
12. It is okay to kill the protagonist. There have been several movies that have shown this, like Vaanam, Bheema, etc. and I think it just conveys that not all stories have a happy ending.
13. Even the most prominent actors should consider doing small roles too. In Hollywood, actors like Bruce Willis, Kevin Spacey, Samuel L. Jackson, etc. have acted for very short roles (<5 minutes). I wonder how great it would be to have actors like Kamal Haasan Rajinikanth, Vijay or Ajith in small guest roles like Simbu plays in Kanna Laddu Thinna Asaya or in Goa.
14. Tragedy can be good: Movies with a feel good nature alone just aren't the thing for today. 

What about some good movies that go unnoticed just because the actor isn't a prominent one? I would like to compile a list of some good movies by actors that are considered not-so-great:
  • Newtonin Moonram Vidhi (SJ Surya) - This movie was gripping, till the end. The vengeance was well served and the acting was really worth a watch. Sadly, no many know that this movie was even made.
  • Ramana (Vijaykanth) - Well who do we have here? Our very own captain! This movie was a good watch, without much of the usual elements that we see in Captain's movie. The best thing was his death (no kidding), which I never expected Captain to do so in any of his movies. Brave attempt indeed. The story too was for the first time, a bit believable, and good too!

There might be many other movies that I might have missed here and I'll add them once it knocks my empty head. 

I have a list of some of the different movies that Tamil film industry has come up with, than the usual ones. They may have been re made from other movies, but hey, it was a brave effort in all. Some of the movies that fit in this category are: Ghajini, Anniyan, Pithamagan, Deiva Thirumagal, Dasavatharam, Saatai, Mozhi, Abiyum Naanum, Unnai Pol Oruvan, Kannathil Muthamittal, Angadi Theru, Chennai 600028.

Here are some themes that can be made into serious, highly appealing movies:

  • Natural Calamities 
  • Disabilities
  • Social Issues
  • Terrorism
  • Historical stories/epics
  • Religion
  • War
  • Terrorism
  • Corruption

If you have read the post this far, please do take a few moments to comment below. I am not an avid watcher of movies, so I might have missed a lot content that could have been written here. You could help me expand this post to make it better :)

Friday, 8 March 2013

Memoirs of a train journey

As all good things come to an end, the time had finally come to say goodbye to Zoho Corp. Three months of work, learning and fun had come to an end. I said bye to all my friends there, who in due course of time became like my family. I had to make a journey back to my college, and I had to book a ticket for the same. I had a plan of going via a day train and for the first time, I did not prefer an overnight journey. I wanted to experience the journey in a train and look out from the window all along. Thus, I booked a ticket in the second seater coach of Guruvayur Express, for the 3rd of March 2013.

It has been quite a while that I haven't woken up early in the morning. I woke up with a start at 5 a.m. on the day of my journey and boarded the train at 7.30 a.m. I had booked a window seat just for the heck of it. The seating was cramped and numbering of the seats suggested that three people were supposed to be accommodated on the seat that could hold just about two. I decided to manage, put on my headphones and started listening to the song 'You'll be in my heart' by Phil Collins. It was a pleasant day, I couldn't complain about the weather. It wasn't too hot and there was a mild drizzle, just perfect for a train journey. I didn't pay much attention towards the people around me, and just kept to myself. The train zoomed past all the local train stations. The real fun began when the train approached Chengalpattu.

The tracks are laid just alongside the Chengalpattu lake, which makes for a beautiful scene to behold. I was staring in amazement at the vast lake, with the cool breeze blowing on my face. As it had rained in the past few days, the lake was full of water. I looked around and saw that all the other passengers too were admiring the scenery. I quickly pulled out my phone from my pocket as I badly wanted to click a photo of the lake. As I started early from home, I had skipped my breakfast and was starving. I bought ildis from the IRCTC pantry staff as I am a big fan of eating stuff that are sold from the Indian Railways pantry and have tasted almost everything they serve.

A view of the Kolavai lake at Chengalpattu

It has been about thirteen years since I have traveled in a train during the day time. All my train journeys since then have been overnight and all I had done was to sleep throughout the journey. In the first ten years of my life, I have made numerous journeys from New Delhi to Chennai and vice versa. The duration of the journey was for about 36-40 hours and I initially used to insist my parents for journey in an air conditioned coach. But as I grew up, I craved for every chance to go on a second class compartment for I started loving the journey very much. I don't remember much about the early days, but there was this specific journey when the co-passengers included a Kashmiri family of three - a dad, mom and daughter. I guess I was about eight years old at that time and I was with my mom and dad as well. I remember the girl to be about two or three years elder to me and in course of time, my parents started talking to hers and got acquainted. I had a pack of playing cards with me I started playing it with the girl. It was evening and the guys from the pantry brought bread omelets to sell. The Kashmiris bought the bread omelets and while they were eating it, the girl's dad offered me some. I had always wanted to eat a bread omelet  as I had heard from my school friends that it tasted great but had never seen or tasted one myself. That wast the first time that I saw a bread omelet and I badly wanted to eat it. I accepted his offer, but my parents declined and scolded me, telling that I wasn't supposed to eat such things. Before the end of that journey, my parents and the girl's parents exchanged their contacts, only to be never seen or contacted ever again.

As there are many rivers that the train passes over during the course of the journey along the 2000 odd kilometers, I used to look for the sign boards of every river and try to remember the order in which we passed through them. Every time we would pass over a river, my mother used to give me a rupee or two and asked me to drop it into the water. I had never questioned her for the reason why we need to follow this routine, and I would simply drop the coin into the river. It was one of our final journeys from New Delhi to Chennai when my mom gave me a coin and asked me to drop it. I asked her for the reason why we did this every time. She replied, "See, you drop this coin into the river and somewhere someone who is really in need of money finds it. That person will thank God for giving him the money and God will reward you for that."

Snapping back to reality, the train was now passing over a river that was completely dry. People had even built homes made of hay at the areas where the water was supposed to flow. There were to kids playing on the soft sand and they were two little girls looking up at the train and were waving their hands at it. In return, I stretched my hand out from the compartment and waved back at them. One of the girls noticed it and called the other, and showed her that someone was waving back at them. They seemed to be very happy to see that. It was about noon and a person from the pantry was selling 'Sappadu' and Biriyani for lunch, which many of the folks around me bought and ate. The train passed over another river, and this time I read the sign board that said 'Cauvery River'. I knew that we were nearing the destination and the journey was about to end. I saw outside the window and found that this river wasn't dry and there was a stream of water running in it. I took a quick glace around and saw that the people were either sleeping or busy eating their lunch. I quietly took out my wallet from my bag and pulled out a five rupee coin and secretly dropped it into the river. That simply made my day.