Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General

Kaatru Veliyidai


To describe Kaatru Veliyidai as a movie about love would be too simplistic. But it wouldn’t be wrong.

To do justice, I would go a bit far. I would say Kaatru Veliyidai can be described as a movie about emotional abuse, a movie about the potential trauma that a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force goes through unknowingly, a movie about Stockholm syndrome and love, and a movie about testosterone dominant relationship where the male partner expects and takes things for granted.

If you like writing or have ever been fascinated with what goes through a movie script writer’s mind when he/she conceives an idea, develops conviction and goes on about writing a full movie script, then this movie would make you wonder what could have been the trigger for Mani Ratnam to write Kaatru Veliyidai.

Relationships are complex and there are many different dimensions one can use to weigh relationships. And certainly one can take many different points of view to look at the complexities of a relationship. As an avid Mani Ratnam movie fan, you’d think, Mani Ratnam has already dealt with so many different shades of relationships in his past movies. Even as late as his last movie OK Kanmani, where he dealt with live-in-relationships, he has pretty much looked at relationships from so many different angles. So I wondered if the trigger for this movie, Kaatru Veliyidai was really him wanting an another take on one of those unexplored complexities of a man-woman relationship or if there was something else.

Ravi Varman, the cinematographer of Kaatru Veliyidai must have had quite a ball. With so much of scenic landscape to play with, with so many close up shots to work on, with so many long takes to deal with, and most importantly with Mani Ratnam providing you the inspiration, what a lovely job it must have been to be behind the camera. He excelled in his craft and the movie was an absolute visual treat.

Aditi Rao Hydari is such a revelation. During her pre-release promo interviews which I followed, I could tell here is a girl who has her head above her shoulders, knows what she wants, etc. etc. But I wasn’t sure what to expect of her as an actor, on screen, other than bringing a fresh face to Tamil cinema. Aditi manages to surprise you. To pull off those emotions and the nuances in close-up shots are not easy and she has done it extremely well. “She was likable throughout the movie” would be such an understatement.

Her character Leela Abraham, is the victim of emotional abuse. A girl who has heard so much about her brother’s squadron colleague, the charming VC (Varun Chakravarthy) and the one whose spot her brother eventually took on that flight on that fateful day. She gets to meet VC eventually, after she graduates from medical school and she is completely in awe of him, with all the infatuation from childhood, culminating in an uncontrollable mixture of feelings for him. This mixture is certainly not love. Perhaps more than love. Perhaps less than love. Or love that is not what she had dreamt of till then. Or perhaps she doesn’t think she is ready to love another person yet. All these are evident because of her hesitation to say “I love you” to VC, who on the other hand, has been shamelessly saying “I love you” right from their second meeting.

Mani Ratnam leaves a lot for you to explore Karthi’s character (VC) on your own, other than the obvious references to VC’s chauvinistic, male arrogant instincts that come to play more often than not, when he is around with his friends/colleagues. A very typical fraternity club behavior – When you are around with your “guy” friends, you want to show off how much “your” girl loves you. When he is alone with Leela, he quite often exhibits a split personality – a possessive & a helpless lover, who is desperate for attention but he quickly changes into a controlling boyfriend, who doesn’t mind saying things that you want to hear. Even though we get a glimpse of his family and the complex relationship with his dad, the mentally disabled brother, etc., I wish Mani had given more food for us to explore those aspects that may have contributed to who VC is. Karthi pulls off a heavy role with a lot of intensity and charm. This is certainly one of those rare Mani Ratnam movies, where there were many lines to be rendered with many long takes and both Karthi and Aditi carried their roles with aplomb.

Leela’s parents on the other hand, come across unlikeable and Mani gives us very little room for us be imaginative here, except connecting the obvious dots and concluding that they hate VC because of their son’s death.

When the orchestral version of Vaan appeared throughout the movie in bits and pieces, I was longing for the extended version. If I remember correctly, the orchestral version appears in a little more complete form only towards the end and then you get to hear a 2-3 minute version of it during the rolling end credits. I really wish AR Rahman releases the extended version soon. The background score was extraordinary and the whole electric guitar bits he had used as his general Air Force and fighter pilot themes were stunning.

Now, the most interesting part of Kaatru Veliyidai for me was the unique IAF backdrop, the Kargil conflict, the POW situation, the great escape from Rawalpindi to India through Afghanistan and of course things that are related to the Air Force lifestyle. Why all these? That brings me back to the question I had asked earlier – What was Mani’s trigger for this movie? The Air Force backdrop and the conflict?? Or was it the elusive and insidious emotional abuses in a relationship, which we rarely talk about as opposed to physical abuses?

Kaatru Veliyidai is making us aware of the fine line that exists between possessive love and emotional abuse. And making us know that it’s as fine as the gap that exists between layers of a breeze. 

Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General, Uncategorized

Tamasha – Don’t let go of that child in you!

tamashaImtiaz Ali’s scripts can be regressive, if you are not attuned to his skillsmanship of dealing with romance in his movies. In all his movies, except Highway (which till date remains my favorite from his lot), he has a reflexive nature to look at love between a man and a woman through a broken prism. His love stories have always been only about love. And I don’t mean that in  a less than complimentary manner. If Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal were more about struggling souls finding true love, Rockstar perhaps was the first shift in gear from the Ali stable, which really drove the search for true love through a deeply disturbed psyche which went looking for a broken heart, all in a quest to create good music. Now in Tamasha,  Ali returns to a similar terrain, one that of a disturbed soul looking for true love, but only this time he carefully maneuvers the search and transforms his story into a simpler and perhaps a much more relatable/accessible version of what that disturbed mind is looking for.

The problem with Ali’s transition from being a simple romantic storyteller in Jab we Met to a more intricate and a complex one, the one we get to see in Rockstar and now in Tamasha is that, you either get on with the journey or not. It depends on where as a movie watcher you are able to connect with the characters or with the plot. If you missed the connection early enough, Rockstar and  Tamasha are two rides that could end up spinning you down through a tube with bumpy stops, thus putting you through an ordeal, you otherwise wished you had avoided. But if you catch on to the angle that Ali wants us to see through his characters, then, notwithstanding a few slightly stretched out scenes or overdoing of a theme or two during the course of the journey, Imtiaz Ali simply stuns you with his nuanced characterizations and dialogues. And I think that’s where Imtiaz Ali scores big with Tamasha. The characters and the way Ali makes you connect with them, fall for them and feel for them – that is if you get on with the journey early enough.

Why always the same story? 

Through Ved (Ranbir Kapoor), the boy who would steal money from his father’s wallet just to listen to stories narrated by this small town storyteller, Imtiaz Ali intricately layers his script (and you) with a well conceived screenplay & images of how epics from all around the world, including India’s own are pretty much woven around the same story. The beautiful overlay of Chali Kahani with this background at the beginning of the movie, pretty much sets the tone for what the viewer should expect in terms of narration for the rest of the movie. Very little has been said about Tara’s background (Deepika Padrone) in the script and I guess that’s because Ali didn’t think that was necessary because his protagonist is Ved. And the broken prism through his narration happens is the one Ved holds.

After setting the backdrop for his protagonist, Ali quickly switches to Corsica, where probably the movie’s breeziest few minutes take place. Even if you end up not liking the movie as a whole, those 15-20 minutes of the movie set in Corsica alone is worth your trip to the movie theater. Be it Rahman’s brilliance in Parade de La Bastille which smoothly transitions to Matargasthi, or Ali’s brilliance in etching out the carefree moments that  Ved and Tara need to be in their ‘role-played characters’, I can’t but imagine how every guy wanted to be that Ved for a few minutes and every girl wanted to be that Tara for those few minutes, Corsica or not. Yes, it may have gotten a bit stretched out – those role playing moments, but if you simply gave into the flow, which is exactly Ved wants to do, one would understand how those moments in Corsica build up Tara’s expectations for what were to follow.

As Tara lands in Kolkata, the song Heer to badi sad hai (with some enjoyable lighthearted lyrics by Irshad Kamil) is played. Much like Wat Wat that comes later on during Ved’s epiphany sort of a moment, I couldn’t quite connect the jazzy or loud juxtaposition of these songs, although I loved the total abstractness of the same. Tara’s persistence eventually leads her to Delhi where she tracks down Ved, who contrary to what Tara was imagining, is caught in his own spiral downfall of living his life, playing by the rules set by others on how life should be lived. This is when Ali tries too hard to have his audience connect with Ved and his internal struggle to come to terms with the distance between his heart and the world. Ved takes time to realize why Tara is in love with him and what he needs to do. But those moments of epiphany, both when he talks to his dad about it and when he randomly connects with that auto driver and his roadside restaurant pedestrians through Wat Wat, somehow didn’t stand out when compared to those simple flashback images of his childhood.

In Ali, Rahman has a reliable ally, a filmmaker who respects his music and weaves his scenes around his music. Ali has so much reverence for his movie’s music and what Rahman does for him. It was evident in Rockstar (of course), but in Highway and Tamasha, Ali takes the most difficult path to show his reverence for Rahman. Except Matargasthi, none of the other songs have a true bollywood setting and yet, they all fit in perfectly. As if the songs were fit in first before Ali wrote his script. Chali Kahani and Tu Koyi Aur Hai were very artistically spliced to spruce up Ali’s narration and they worked so well. I hope Rahman continues to derive creative satisfaction doing projects like these because there aren’t too many filmmakers like this anymore who can stay current with the trends in moviemaking and yet, stay true to their beliefs on songs being an integral part of movies.

With Tamasha, Imtiaz Ali once again tells the  same story. The story of a disturbed male protagonist getting lost in a maze of love and his struggle to reach his lover, who makes him realize who he really is.

The last few seconds (when both the lead characters are shown listening to music with their headphones on, while we don’t get to hear anything) just underscores that as much of a heavy romantic story this is, in the end, Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha is all about not letting go of the child in you.

Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General, Uncategorized

The Reznor Parallel – OK Kanmani OST 

It is hard to describe this. This experience that I am going through as I attempt to understand the OST of OK Kanmani. I don’t think I have felt like this for any AR Rahman soundtrack/album since Iruvar, which also happens to be a Mani Ratnam movie.
Well. Actually there was one more OST – 127 Hours.

All of a sudden, it dawned on me. A parallel that somehow makes sense to me when I think of what AR Rahman has done for OK Kanmani. May be I am trying too hard to draw this parallel, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Trent Reznor. A record producer and a music composer who is sort of an enigma not necessarily for his personality but more for his music. Industrial rock for which he got famous for may be a tag he will have to live with for a long time. But before he got famous for scoring OST in movies, he started associating himself with Video Games. I am not a gamer myself but a few years ago when Reznor shot to fame with ‘The Social Network’, I started following his music even though I had heard of ‘Nine Inch Nails’ long before. Some of the soundtracks he had done for video games from as early as 1996 (Quake) to the latest Call of Duty Black Ops 2 are simply mind boggling and path breaking in their own right.

Without getting into a track by track analysis of OK Kanmani and comparing them with Reznor’s OST from these video games or from the movies he has done (including the latest OST from “The Gone Girl”, which I devoured), I just want to point out this parallel that dawned on me.

OK Kanmani is a classic example of how a movie maker can get a music composer involved with the project right from the beginning stages and have him contribute heavily in building the narrative of the story to the extent that certain moods of the scenes and that of the characters could actually be filmed just because of how the OST is done. I am pretty sure Mani Ratnam conceived many scenes in OK Kanmani based on Rahman’s music. 

To me that’s the beauty of this soundtrack. This OST has a flow and has a life of its own – not just as standalone song pieces which can be enjoyed on their own but more as a continuum. Rahman’s music in OK Kanmani has a loud voice – one that tells a story. It’s like if I listen to the OST, there is a story that I can form in my mind even if I didn’t see how Mani Ratnam conceived his scenes for the music. 

And as for the Reznor parallel, the fact that the lead character in OK Kanmani is a video game designer and how the game he develops forms a thin backdrop to the whole story may just have been a trigger for me to draw the parallel.

Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General

Those moments that make up our lives – OK Kamani

OK KanmaniOur lives are made up of many small moments. There may be a few occasional monumental ones. But our lives and lives’ memories are essentially built on many small moments. And yet, we often ignore them, as in, we often don’t celebrate them or revel in them or cherish them. Why does it seem to me that we live a life now that is in constant anticipation of the next moment, thereby completely underestimating the importance of the present moment?

Departing from his usual tacit style of dealing with press, pre & post releases, Mani Ratnam, this time around perhaps felt the need to put himself out there to rationalize the movie & the script because of his past few box office failures. That this movie, OK Kanmani really didn’t need him to do that to turn the table and to become a huge box-office success is a different story altogether. Yet, it was such a learning experience to listen to him talk about his vision behind OK Kaman.

Mani underlines one point over and over in all his interviews that this movie is an attempt to look at the current generation and how it deals with their lives on a daily basis. To me there is a shade of oversimplification of the script, when he says that. And may be that is intentional on Mani’s part. He also firmly adds that this movie is not to preach any message to the current generation or to the past generation. Which, after seeing the movie twice, I can agree with.

Vasu, Adi’s brother and his wife are the in-between generation in the story. But they come across much more rooted in their cultural orthodoxy than Ganapathy & Bhavani. On an unrelated note, every time Bhavani called Ganapathy by his name, I had an involuntary reactionary echo clicking inside my mind, as this is the first movie where one of the important characters in the story has my name, one which gets used quite often throughout the movie. But I digressed for a moment there. May be it was to revel in that moment?  Vasu and his wife may attribute their slightly conservative outlook  to they living in Chennai. But their characters lay the bridge between two different outlooks that the two couples (Adi-Tara & Ganapathy-Bhavani) bring to their lives respectively .

Adi and Tara are not representatives of the entire current generation. Perhaps, they represent a majority of such middle class generation growing up in Metros. And their thought processes are highly indicative of the times we live in. My personal opinion on the institution of marriage may have been one of the reasons, but it certainly was one of the many reasons why I could associate with Adi’s thoughts. And even with Tara’s. Not necessarily with their persona.

Ganapathy and Bhavani are the most important characters in the film. Not Adi and Tara. Right from the first moment Adi meets Ganapathy uncle and Bhavani auntie, he is being taught the lesson of cherishing the current moment. Bhavani is a first stage Alzheimer patient when the movie starts, and she progresses to Stage II by the end of the movie. Bhavani’s untreatable disease stays throughout the movie as a thread of sadness touching us deeply, but never asking us for sympathies. If you choose to ignore that sadness that was never portrayed directly on screen but only through the subtle tones & emotions brought out by Ganapathy & the childish innocence brought out by Bhavani, then you could walk out of the movie without that thread of sadness having an impact on you.

What’s more brilliant than juxtaposing an Alzheimer patient’s joy of living in a moment  (and the struggle involved with remembering or dealing with the past / future) with that of Adi’s and Tara’s decision to live in the moment as long as they stayed in Mumbai, before their professional careers took them apart wherever in future..? Just brilliant. How Ganapathy enjoys every moment he gets to live with Bhavani is the most valuable lesson he could teach Adi just by having him stay with him in his house as a paying guest. Ganapathy’s absolute understanding of an Alzheimer patient’s challenges and his unconditional love (&  patience) for his wife, knowing very well that she is going to forget him one day proved multiple things to Adi. Unconditional love being the most important one.

Adi and Tara breeze through the movie in sequences of beautiful moments. Those small and beautiful moments that define their lives. And the simple emotions they exchange touch us, the viewers almost instantaneously. The viewer is made to revel in those moments. The viewer is made to cherish those moments long after he/she walks out of the movie hall.

And as the viewer walks out the movie hall, knowing very well that he/she is living at a particular moment right then, one which is making him/her think about the beauty of such small moments.

And wondering if those beautiful, small moments indeed make up their lives.

As for me, I know They Do.

Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General

Kaaviya Thalaivan

Kaaviya Thalaivan
Kaaviya Thalaivan

I avoided reading any detailed reviews of this movie prior to watching it in theaters tonight. Of course, I couldn’t totally avoid any news about the movie after it was released. Tweets, Short reactions from the people involved in the movie, etc. were all things I had been exposed to, as I was not really living under the rock the past few days.

Right from the time when it was announced, I had been eagerly waiting for this movie. And no, it was not only because of AR Rahman but it was also because of him. But the main reason was really the subject that director Vasanthabalan had undertaken.  When I read that this could be a movie loosely based on the lives of MKT, KBS and SGK (Doyens of Thamizh Stage), I was fascinated.

I still remember my grand mother making me sit through an old MKT movie on TV, when I was a child and how she made me count the number of songs in the movie (which worked out to some 36 or so. Yes. 36 songs in one movie). I can’t recall if the movie was Haridas or Ambikapathy. But that era of stage artistes carrying over a certain culture from their theaters to envelope the movies of the then era with a certain character, gave glimpses to their stage world a bit to a 10 year old boy like me then. I had witnessed live stage plays in the 70s and 80s, but then they were more modern compared to the MKT era productions and artistes. So there was always something esoteric and mysteriously amusing about this era of Thamizh stage doyens. At least for me.

Kaaviya Thalaivan is an attempt that you can’t but accept to be completely earnest and sincere. One could argue over the categorization of the movie as to if it should be termed classic or not and one could argue over the apparent creative liberties that the director may have taken in panting a certain era on celluloid, but what one can’t argue over is the importance of such movies in the context of how Thamizh movies are evolving today.

The director does complete justice and is absolutely sincere to the foundation of the story, which is ‘Lives of Thamizh stage artistes during a particular period of time’. Everything else in the movie is only to support a narrative that a movie format needs. Many of those embellishing incidents fall in place just fine and then there may have been some that stand out like square pegs on round holes, but nevertheless aesthetically beautiful pegs on their own. In general, all of them helped maintain the tempo of the movie.

Siddharth and Prithviraj compete with each other in delivering one knockout punch over another in the acting department. What a treat it is to watch both of them. For Siddharth, the actor, I really hope this movie fetches him some accolades which he rightfully deserves. The scene when he gets caught by his guru (Swami played by Nasser) is a small proof for what this man is capable of doing, but how unfortunate it is that he hasn’t gotten enough opportunities till now. Prithviraj, on the other hand is already a well proven veteran in the art of underplaying his roles to perfection. And in this movie, he does a commendable added job of reciting some longwinded Thamizh dialogues with poise and ease.

I remember Vasanthabalan talking about the tone he and Nirav Shah (DOP) decided to have for the movie and I think it was a brilliant idea to settle on a uniform technicolor/reddish tone throughout the movie. The song picturizations were more or less on stage, so it needed a lot of creativity on the DOP’s part to make each song look different. And I loved how “Sandikkudhira” was picturized (and choreographed).

Jeyamohan has been credited for dialogues and although the language used could be debated if it really belonged to that era (the big question is which time period is the movie set in. The director probably leaves it to our imagination to some extent, even though we all know the story takes place prior to 1947), the punches in some of the lines were mind-blowing.

AR Rahman must have thoroughly enjoyed working on this movie. Assuming his appetite for good Indian movies has only increased compared to how it was in the 90s, then this movie does more than just feed his appetite. What a swelteringly captivating OST that Rahman has spun around this movie. It’s hard to imagine this movie without his OST. Downplayed for the most part and yet created the necessary mood for each scene. Touched our hearts where it had to and Moved our emotions when it needed to. I really hope the OST of this movie is released separately for wider audience appreciation.

If Vasanthabalan’s original dream behind making a movie like this is essentially to set a story based on the lives of stage artistes, then he completely succeeded in achieving that dream. But where he may have fallen a bit short is around how he tried to fit his dream into a movie format, thereby compromising on a few story stretches which in hindsight could have been avoided (including the mildly melancholic climax).

Kaaviya Thalaivan translates to “An Epic Leader” – The movie falls short of being an epic, but definitely can claim to be a leader in throwing light on the forgotten trials and tribulations of a certain special group of extremely talented people, aka the Thamizh stage artistes.

Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General

The Hundred Foot Journey

The Hundred Foot

Call it Serendipity or what. But I watched “Chef” and “The Hundred Foot Journey” in a span of 7 days. Totally unplanned but I did watch the second movie before the taste of the first one could leave my mental palate all together. If one were to point out how the stories of these two movies are so entirely different, I definitely won’t argue with them. Instead, I will focus on just one point. Food. There is plenty of food and food related discussions in both those movies that I wonder how anyone could walk out of these movies not feeling hungry.

‘Chef’ was a heart touching movie whose story is all about one Chef and his passion for doing something unique & how he finally ends up chasing his passion, as opposed to compromising.

‘The Hundred Foot Journey’, even though at the outset is certainly all about a clash of two cuisines, I feel the crux of the movie again lies in a Chef finding where his passion really lies and accepting that chasing it means compromising some grander opportunities.

My biggest gripe on the THFJ is the screenplay. I haven’t read the book but from what I have heard, the screenplay of the movie doesn’t do justice to the book. But that is a common complaint one hears when a book gets adapted to the screen and the book lovers typically have a negative view of the screen adaptation for multiple reasons.

For me ‘THFJ’ starts off beautifully, the plot thickens at the right place with the perfect tempo during the first hour or so. All the necessary ingredients and spices get added during this time. And then, quite unfortunately,the pot perhaps boils too quickly and it almost feels like the director and the writer wanted to simmer the pot for some time, before serving the climax for the audience to taste. In the end, what gets served during the climax, though tastes exactly like what the audience is expecting all through the movie due to the nice aroma arising out of the first hour or so, the extra 10-15 minutes of screenplay which simmered the plot a bit too long, kills the appetite a bit.

My biggest pride of the movie is of course AR Rahman’s OST. I actually started listening to the album with closer ears after I watched the movie. It may have helped me appreciate the music more. ‘The Gift’, ‘The Village of Saint Antonin, ‘You Complete me’ and ‘New Beginnings’ are quite the new experiences one gets out of a new AR album, while ‘The Clash’ stands out as an absolute masterpiece, especially in the context of the film. ‘My mind is stranger’ and ‘Afreen’ are two voice based songs that appear in the album, with the latter finding place during different parts of the movie and the former not finding a place at all (I wonder why and I hope it was a a problem with the screening in my theater).

Helen Mirren delivers a character what she only can – That of an unrelenting, brood French Restaurateur/Chef widow. And Om Puri portrays a stereotypical middle aged man embellished with his family of 3 sons and a daughter, quite well. Manish Dayal, who plays Hassan, does deliver what is expected out him. But I actually rate Charlotte Le Bon’s Marguerite character a few notches above Dayal’s Hassan.

Overall, I am glad Lasse Hallstrom did this movie – A very healthy recipe of French and Indial cultures served with some stereotypes of both cultures, which could have been avoided, but then perhaps are necessary for a neutral & an unaware audience.

A few months from now, when I think of this movie, I am pretty sure Madame Mallory and AR Rahman will be the only two faces that will smile at me, as I expect the taste (and the after-taste) of the movie to be long gone from all my senses. But then, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that I didn’t enjoy the taste all together.

Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General, Music - General

Million Dollar Arm

MDA
MDA

Been listening to this OST and have listened to all the tracks at least half a dozen times.

And then this evening, I took my baseball crazy 10 year old son to watch the movie. Couldn’t have been a more perfect evening to take him out to watch a baseball movie, because tomorrow is his first baseball league game of the season (and this is the first ever season he is playing). So imagine the excitement! He knew the movie had something to do with baseball and India, as he had seen the promos, but he was totally sucked in once he started watching the movie. That’s when I felt, as a father, how important it was for me to take him to the movie – if not for anything else, to make him connect with his roots in a way, only a movie of this kind could do.

When we walked out of the movie, he told me that this movie is similar to 42 (The Jackie Robinson story) – just that there were two Jackie Robinsons. I felt happy to hear how he drew the parallel (in the most appropriate way) without we having to explain anything to each other.

Now to the movie…

The movie is spectacularly everything you would expect in a sports movie. A struggling sports agent looking for that one success and when he takes up a challenge, all odds are stacked up against him. He overcomes them one by one, while romancing an affable, quiesce, nonchalant, next door girl, who makes him get to know his human side, which eventually helps him succeed. That’s it. The only difference and the big difference here is the ‘challenge’ itself. “Finding a pitcher from India…”

Fortunately, the Indian stereotypes were not too many in the movie and if & when they were there, they were subtly played with enough humor to present them to an American audience, who otherwise is expected to have an exotic image of India. But, we are in 2014 and not anywhere in future, so I guess, one shouldn’t be surprised with the filmmakers’ intent to continue to work around the Indian stereotypes that are of exotic nature.

Jon Hamm was a great choice for JB. He played the role to perfection. So did Lake Bell, Alan Arkin and Aasif Mandvi, although I am not sure, why Mandvi’s character had to be an Indian character. The kids – Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal and the Indian coach Pitobash were all perfect in their roles. There were a couple of cheesy sequences (prayer scene, yoga scene, etc.) – but they were not too many to actually stand out, but probably enough to draw  some attention from the critics, who are otherwise waiting to malign a movie which tries to pit multiple cultures against one another.

AR Rahman’s music actually turned out to the biggest surprise for me. His OST was almost like a constant pillar throughout the movie. Every sequence had something for Rahman to make it his and he has done it with some ease. Be it the ‘Bobbleheads’ cue used for the opening Disney logo unveiling or ‘Thirakkadha’ used during end credits, every bit of his music actually made a large impression on me while watching the movie. An impression larger than what it made while listening to them on my Digital player. I was particularly thrilled and literally was standing with some goosebumps, when I noticed that more than 75% of the audience were sitting and listening to the song, as ‘Unborn Children’ (Thirakkadha) started playing towards the end and the credits started rolling. Rarely do I see this happen.

I walked out of the theater with a crack of a smile on my face and with a fatherly sense of pride for two reasons:

1) Son said he wanted to stay through to listen to all the songs

2) He was ready to come home and get his glove & ball ready to start playing in his room (it was 9:30 PM)

Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General

Highway – It’s not just about the Destination

Highway
Highway

The world we live in is complex. But the life we lead can be simple. It’s up to us to choose what kind of life we want to lead in this highly complex world.

The enormous expectations of the society are a burden for all of us & with every passing minute we spend in this spiral society, the chances of us getting sucked into a vortex of complexity are high. Depending on which layer of the society one’s circumstances push them into, these complexities do have different dimensions. If you are born in an affluent family of a multimillionaire industrialist, who has enough clout over the central cabinet ministers, then these dimensions you get to live by, such as a highly sheltered & a prison like life, are entirely different from those that someone else has to live by, who let’s say is actually a someone who is born in a daily laborer’s family, who is in need of that extra income to feed his family, thus forcing him to  ‘rent out’ his wife to make his ends meet.

But the similarity is that both their lives are complex in their own ways, because of what their circumstances have forced them to be part of.

Imtiaz Ali’s Highway is truly a meandering travel on emotionally bumpy terrains, around these complex dimensions, taking you to a cinematically logical conclusion that if you choose to lead a simple life, you may actually be able to do so. The movie is certainly my most favorite movie of the 3 movies I have seen of his. Rockstar was on a different plane with a much more grandeur theme, which occasionally failed to strike the right chord with me, while Jab We Met was a very well made Rom-com. But Highway was a ride worth driving till the end.

Take for example the sequence, when Veera is sitting on a rock right smack in the middle of a flowing glacial river, with swirls all around her and she suddenly goes through her emotions in a desolate & an uncontrolled way – She would laugh for no apparent reason and cry for no apparent reason, so detached from her own  conscience, yet her subconscious mind keeps reminding her that she is doing something that is not real. Or the sequence when Mahabir lets her run for her escape early on in the story and Veera runs almost to a point of breathlessness, under the stars, with her feet on top of  scaled salt pans and after a while, she hits a point of no return emotionally, comes to a complete realization, only to run back to her captor. These are turbulences that the character goes through. Her struggle, insecurity around understanding what happened to her as a child was actually sexual molestation, realization of the freedom she has and the confusion amidst all as to what she thought was freedom till then. We get to see glimpses of similar struggles that Mahabir goes through and the dimensions of his struggle are much more layered. On one hand he is battling his guilt (crime and murder) and on the other hand, he is also haunted by his early childhood, of seeing his mother go through what she did with a sense of helplessness. We get to experience his loneliness and his surrender to the inevitable. We get to see his vulnerability at the end, when he lets go off his burden and we get to see the momentary happiness that swipes his face before he gets killed.

Finally when Veera decides to confront her outer demons in her own house, we all feel relieved. We feel relieved for the choice she has made. She chooses to lead a simple life, breaking away all the shackles of the sheltered rich life, she once never knew she was leading. To me, Highway is not so much about Stockholm syndrome as everyone is talking about. It really is about the journey Veera and Mahabir take to make the choices they end up making.

Both Aliaa and Randeep have delivered brilliant performances. Aliaa has more scope to showcase a range of emotions, while Randeep’s character keeps his real inner personality in check, for the most part of the movie. Along with these two, the only other on screen star who has made me want to go back and watch the movie again, to make mental notes of the locations, is Anil Mehta, the DOP. What an astounding work he has done! Every shot, every angle, every corner and every scenic setting is fresh in my memory.

Yes, I could argue that Imtiaz Ali should not have succumbed to the conventional Bollywoodish compulsion to end this movie on a logical note – but he did it with minimal compromises. And for that he should get some credit.

Last but not the least, AR Rahman’s music score couldn’t have been more apt for a movie like this. The script was so challenging to scope out a memorable background score and yet, Rahman has managed to convert these challenges into golden opportunities to showcase his skills. Imtiaz does great service to Rahman’s songs by using all songs in their entirety, except may be the last few minutes when “Mahi Ve” was cut short. Watching the movie on screen with subtitles  made it easier for me to appreciate Irshad Kamil’s words. Irshad has set himself a new target to reach in terms of lyrical stardom. He deserves it.

Final Thought:

Highway is an emotional ride that taunts you with destinations that you know are real but are challenging to reach. Go watch it because it’s only the journey that matters and not the destination.

Posted in AR Rahman

Jab Tak Hai Jaan

Challa is clearly touted to be the song of the album. Very rightfully so. Beautiful guitar work all the way and Rabbi brings a new flavor to the industry. Without being able to appreciate the Punjabi infused poetry, I have to pretend to appreciate the lyrics.

Saans is a Shreya song all the way in both versions although Mohit makes a slight appearance in the main one. A melodic pathos, almost reminding me of some Zubeidaa ambience. Gulzaar deserves another pat on his back. (Poor man…! He could be hurt at this rate).

Heer is another Punjabi flavored song which may need some time for me to grow into. But Harshdeep Kaur hits a home run with her magnificient singing.

Jiya Re could be a party song along the lines of Latoo from Ghajini. Some good interludes and sounds make the song listenable and may be a bit foot tapping. Overall, I would just rate this song ok even though Neeti Mohan’s singing is pretty amazing.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a Javed Ali song to begin with but somehow transforms into an unexpected mix with the introduction of  a new voice Shakthisree. I think I need a few more listens. Enjoyed the melody but haven’t caught anything novel yet except the transformation.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a poem recited by SRK but the guitar work alone is worth a dozen listens. I love the electric guitar ending. Just brilliant. Only AR.

Ishq Shava is a joyous trip and I fell in love with the funky opening and the groove. A winner in my books.

And finally Ishq Dance is the one that totally caught me off-guard. Didn’t expect an instrumental in this format from AR. Trust him to surprise me – surprise all. What a brilliant rhythmic piece. Need some more listens to form any opinions.

Overall, like most, my first instinct is that this sounds more like a YRC album than an AR Rahman album.

As a closing point, I would like to add that this is the first time I am expressing my views on a Rahman album without reading absolutely anything about it (no reviews, etc.).

Posted in AR Rahman, Movies - General

Iruvar – The Duo

Last night I watched “Iruvar”. This probably was my third time watching the movie in whole. But my first time in at least 7 or 8 years.

The following is a collection of thoughts limping out of that experience and it may very well include some serendipitous discoveries that could only be attributed to my lack of observation the first two times I saw the movie.

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  • An era of the birth of modern Thamizh literacy.
  • An age of growing Rationalism.
  • A period when Cinema had started capturing the imagination of the country & in particular the state where stage play was the number one medium of public entertainment, but considered too elitist.
  • And then there were those pioneers who helped steer each one of the above ships in the state during that time. Two of them in particular start building what later would turn out to be a very complicated public & personal relationship. Those two, even after almost 5 decades since they stamped their feet in front of the public eyes in the state, have the power and influence over many things that the state witnesses today culturally and politically.

Now imagine the guts of a filmmaker who sets out to capture the essence of these two personalities through a 150 minute motion picture!

The characteristic is being referred to as ‘guts’ simply because of the nature of the duo‘s influence and the depth of their influence in the context of the state’s cultural and political spectrum. For the simple fact that any reference to them in any form of media could bring out a sense of emotion and passion that only a native of the state can relate to. So even to set out to do a movie on the Duo is a gutsy move.

Now for the brilliance of Mani Ratnam.

Example 1:

Here is the last 4 odd minutes of the movie. I had goosebumps watching this scene. A.R. Rahman’s score with a haunting voice, Santosh Sivan’s camera, Vairamuthu’s Karunanidhiesque words and the beautifully (I know it is ironic to use the word beautiful while talking about a funeral) shot funeral procession just bring back memories of 1987…Time stays still for 4 minutes. Brilliance.

Example 2:
To me, this is another brilliant scene which brought out the true spirit of the exact point of time where the duo decided to exhibit their differences in public in such a short time on screen.

Example 3:
Take a look at this intro. All of 16 seconds. A dreamy eyed boy traveling to Chennai along with his mother. A single mother traveling to Chennai to fulfill her son’s dreams and you can see that she is anxiously fearful of what the future has to offer while the boy is full of optimism. No dialogues. No music. Yet, these 16 seconds capture so much.

Example 4:

Now finally take a look at this bit. Mohan Lal and Prakash Raj at their best. Love the pompous rhythmic BGM that A.R. Rahman kicks in at 0:31. Changes the tone of the scene completely. Pay attention to the dialogues. In less than a minute, Mani Ratnam with the help of Suhasini, the dialogue writer manages to summarize the basic differences in the duo‘s political ideologies. Of course this was when both of them hadn’t even smelled power and were raw. Young, raw and filled with a sense of youthful arrogance to do something good for the state.

I can possibly go on and on analyzing a few more scenes for I felt the movie was much more than what was presented on screen in 150 minutes.

In spite of all this glory I am talking about, I think the movie failed to make a connection with the audience. Interestingly I don’t think it was because Mani’s subject caused some kind of political antagonism on both sides thus resulting in audience staying away from theaters. Instead, it was because of the fact that the movie tried to live on subtlety and subtlety alone.

Subtlety all the way. Unfortunately for Mani and the movie, that didn’t click with the audience.

Having said that, I also think if Mani had made this movie any more dramatic or any louder, it would have stirred enormous pages of emotional outbursts and would have failed to trigger the passion of movie lovers like me.

This was a movie which I am glad was made the way it was made, but wish was made in 2 parts. I think there is so much more to tell about the duo & their lives, which a mere 150 minutes didn’t do enough justice to.

Be it the Mani Ratnam / A.R. Rahman duo or the Mohan Lal / Prakash Raj duo or the Santosh Sivan / Vairamuthu duo, it is clear that the real life Duo, whose lives inspired this movie will continue to enliven millions of hearts in Thamizh Nadu for many more years to come.