Posted in Movies - General

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (CCV)

What if the battle isn’t always between good and evil?
What happens when evil permeates into good and what’s left is only shades of evil? 

Chekka

In a movie based on an abrasive story about a family horrifically transformed after the death of its patriarch who is a wealthy gangster, the writers (Mani Ratnam and Siva Ananth) and the director (Mani Ratnam) adequately prepare you for the gory twists and turns the movie is going to take, after a shocking opening scene where there is a failed assassination attempt on the patriarch and his wife.

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is a new kind of Mani Ratnam film. The ‘Mani-isms’ we are used to seeing perhaps have gotten a reboot. Mani’s treatment of songs has entered a completely new and a complex territory. There is less of poetry in any given scene, as the scenes are not dwelling on moments, instead they define phases of stories and hence Mani couldn’t afford to spend time on waxing poetry. There are many details, at first, seem untold. When I watched the movie the second time, I realized that they were not left untold, but were meant to be left intentionally open for audience’s interpretation, as the director wants to move the story forward in the quickest way possible. So, do these all make CCV a film that is very “Un-Mani-Ratnam”? The answer is yes, if you like to box creativity. The answer is no, if you believe in an artist’s creativity manifesting into different forms or in it simply evolving.

Arvind Swamy, Arun Vijay, and STR are three brothers. They play these characters that are your manly men, riding high on Testosterone with a capital “T”. They have strong women in their respective lives – Jyohika, Aishwarya, and Dayana. When their father, Prakash Raj and mother, Jayasudha, escape an assassination attempt on their lives, the brothers, two of them living outside the country, are forced to get together in Chennai. As they help comfort their parents, an opportunity to reassess their priorities arise, and along with it a suspicion on who could have tried killing their father creeps in. The stage is set for a power struggle, if and when a vacuum gets created after the father dies.

We are also introduced to an outsider, Vijay Sethupathi, a cop, serving suspension of his duties. He is a childhood friend of Arvind Swamy and is fully aware of the family’s criminal dealings, and is ok to share a plate of ‘upma’ or a cup of tea with them, without any guilt. The script sort of skates over these characters and their backgrounds unwaveringly, and yet, we don’t feel lost or disconnected. So, it’s left to the actors, then, to keep us close to the movie, and none of them shirks away from that task of injecting the needed intellect and emotion to the characters. AR Rahman’s powerful background score defines the underlying mood of the film, frame by farme.

I was quite unsure of my reaction to the movie the first time around because I was unsure if I had missed any character layering, given that the story is straightforward, barring the somewhat predictable plot twists. When I watched it the second time, I was able to appreciate the nuances of the characters much better. I could understand why Mani and Siva may have made some choices in their character portrayal. Given the nature of the “plot forwards”, and because of the deliberate attempt to downplay and not dramatize the bonding between the characters, there is very little emotionally, for the audience to latch onto, which works in the movie’s favor when it comes to the final act.

The final act of the movie is almost like a “purge”. A bloodbath of vengeance, shot aesthetically in a visually arresting landscape (Gandhikota Canyon in Kadappa district, Andhra Pradesh), set to hues of red, all over. From the phosphorus rich red soil to the bullfinch sky showcasing a sunset, from blood oozing out of dead bodies to the redness arising from anger, the director of cinematography Santhosh Sivan and Mani Ratnam, make sure that there is poetic justice meted out to the title of the movie. With AR Rahman’s guitar riff screaming to some powerful lyrics of Vairamuthu, one ends up walking out of the theater rooting for the right character…albeit as an afterthought.

What if the battle isn’t always between good and evil?
What happens when evil permeates into good and what’s left is only shades of evil? 

தப்பு தப்பா தப்புங்க செஞ்சு
தப்பு அறிஞ்சும் தப்புங்க செஞ்சு
செவந்து போச்சு நெஞ்சு

[Conscious but repeated violent deeds

Eventually result in bloodied souls]

 

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 Uncategorized

HBDARR50

I will confess first. I am a huge fanboy of AR. But I have also evolved as a fan over the years. From just being a blind fan of his music to a much more nuanced fan of the technicalities in his music (as much as I could grasp), his thought process behind his compositions, his philosophy in life and in general, AR, the human being.

To wish any icon on social media or on the internet seems like a vanity seeking attempt, especially if I don’t know him personally. But this being AR Rahman’s milestone birthday, I decided to do just that. The irony!

My interest in music, my half-baked (or quarter or 1/8 or..) knowledge notwithstanding, can be divided into 5 phases..

1) Pre-1990

I grew up getting soaked in Ilayaraja’s music (and MSV’s of course). And lots of carnatic music because of family surroundings and my own learning opportunities. The truth though was that most of my listening can be summed up as ‘casual exposure’.

2) Between 1988-1994

Serious listening. May be I was beginning to grasp the nuances better. And also because I was being exposed to a new world of music called classic rock. Thanks to the time I spent in Rajasthan during this time, I was exposed to more Hindi music than ever before (which doesn’t mean much if you spent all your time in deep south Tamil Nadu like I did.. till 1990). My half-baked music learning came very handy and I start analyzing. Even dabbled with making my own music. Just dabbled.

3) 1994-1998

Completely absorbed by this storm called AR Rahman. Roja brought out the curiosity but Pudhiya Mugam sealed it. I became a fanboy. I must have listened to every song from every album of AR Rahman during this time for about million times. Life changing in many ways. Suddenly, I felt like I am hearing my own inner voice in music. Even though it was only for fun, I started making my own music in a much more “complete” way. They sounded terrible. Especially the ones I created during this time. But I got a kick out of making my own music.

4) 1998 to 2008

Digital music still new. My CD collection filled my basement and my fascination for AR’s music/experimentation continued to grow multiple times during this time. Being away from the country just made the bond even stronger.  Also started listening to more contemporary western music, which internally made me appreciate AR’s music even more. And my own music creations got slightly better (even if I may say so myself).

5) 2006-Now

Music streaming has completely changed the way I listen to music these days. Good or bad I don’t know. But I can listen to any music I want at any time without much effort. Thus resulting in me listening to lots of world music. The honest confession is that my comfort music is still AR’s. I am sure it will always be his music.

Just as a reflection of my own AR Rahman musical journey, I put together this Youtube playlist with 50 songs. These are songs that aren’t necessarily chartbusters. Less obscure in some ways.

Happy Birthday AR Rahman!

Thank you for shaping my musical appreciation of not just your music, but of any music.

Posted in Movies - General, Uncategorized

24 – The Movie

24

I watched this movie in a theater with a really awful sound system. Even though I had vouched that I wouldn’t come back to this theater to watch a Tamil movie again (after I watched Kadal a few years ago), today, I had to make a choice largely due to some traffic congestion issues.

12 points on 24

  1. I really wish Vikram Kumar or his team had done a final edit of the movie after watching it with 100% “audience hat” on, without any emotional connect. I am sure they would agree with me if I told them that the movie felt a tad too long.
  2. Not necessarily an entirely novel concept to moviegoers in general with time travel and all. But for Tamil audience, an absolutely original storyline with a very familiar twin brothers backdrop.
  3. Vikram Kumar has done an extremely good job with his script to make it very refreshing and very engaging.
  4. The movie starts off in 1990. I can’t recall science labs and scientific gears resemble anything like what they have used in the movie, but I have to admit that I fell in love with the props and everything else. The art directors Amit Ray and Subrata Chakraborty deserve multiple high-fives. The props and scientist gear took me back by a century at least if not more, but the coloring and the overall texture of the scenes made sure this aspect blended well with the movie. So much so that they became a highlight of the movie.
  5. Cinematography by Thiru is top notch. The train chase sequence, The estate and its surroundings (which were shot in Poland) have come out beautifully on screen and the overall skin color of the movie is simply outstanding. I can’t say enough about how visually appealing the whole movie is.
  6. Music by AR Rahman. Enough said. My biggest regret is that I couldn’t watch the movie in a better theater.
  7. Suriya has played all the three roles with aplomb. Minute variations in body language to tonal differences, etc.
  8. The whole sequence around Saranya’s family reunion towards the end could have been chopped off – At least a bulk of it.
  9. The chemistry between Suriya and Saranya, as son and mother is awesome on screen.
  10. Am a fan of Nithya. And she can do wonders on screen. In this movie she had to play a pivotal but short role and she has knocked it out of the park.
  11. Samantha – She does what she has been doing of late. Brilliant work in a very repetitive character that she has been getting to play of late.
  12. Overall, Vikram has done a very decent job to make 24 the movie, a very engaging movie. He has worked very hard to write a script that would cater to multiple age groups. The only challenge here is when you do something like this, you tend to overdo sequences, lines or certain sentiments and I felt that team behind 24 may have fallen into that trap here and there throughout the script. But nothing to take away from what a gigantic achievement this movie is for the team. Really hope this paves the way for many more moviemakers to dream of making more fantasy thrillers and I also hope that the Tamil movie audience shows their support to movies like these.
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 Movies - General

Raanjhnaa – Q&A

The question:

Does the movie work?

The answer:

Yes.

The other question:

If I am not a South Indian and not familiar with Dhanush’s body of work, would I still have enjoyed the movie?

The answer to the other question:

Hmm. Hard to say. I would like to believe that I would have still enjoyed the movie because Dhanush doesn’t overdo his emotions. And even in all those ‘supposedly stalking’ scenes, he is the only reason why the viewer actually doesn’t think of what he does as stalking and sympathize with Kundan. (BTW, since when stalking become unacceptable in Indian movies? As far as I can tell, this has been going on since the 1950s in different forms. I am not defending stalking. Just raising the question why these double standards??)

And the other other question:

Are there any weaknesses in the plot?

And the answer to the other other question:

Several. But Anand Rai does a fine job of letting the script jump from one plot stop to another so quickly, which when combined with no overdone emotions/scenes ensure that the silliness of certain moments doesn’t find a place to rest in our long term memories. I should also add that the casting was near perfect (Sonam Kapoor pulls off a stunning a performance)

The final question:

Does AR..

The final answer:

Sorry to interrupt. I know what you are asking. Yes. AR Rahman’s music definitely carries the movie. Very well balanced BGM and all that. But full credit to Anand Rai for giving the music the respect it deserves.

Posted in Movies - General

Catching up on movies…

The past 2-3 weeks have been very productive for me. Many movies have been added to my list successfully.

Skyfall – Even Roger Moore ranks Daniel Craig up there with Sean Connery. I hate to say it – but Craig may even be better than Sean in my books. Sean Connery will always have the unfair advantage of being the first one to portray Bond. In any case, Skyfall pretty much cements Daniel Craig’s place up there. Thoroughly enjoyed the movie and for once, Bond comes to terms with his age.

JTHJ – I went in expecting it to be an out and out sappy, melodramatic, old-school, romantic thriller. And it was. Still, I enjoyed it. What else do you expect from a Yash Chopra movie? SRK looks old. Many didn’t like Anushka Sharma’s acting, but I did. AR Rahman does just enough and nothing earth breaking with BGM, while his songs are worth my visit to the theater.

Life of Pi – In my philosophical frame of mind, this should warrant a separate post by itself. But I may never get into that frame of mind in the near future and that would mean the memories of the movie may not be fresh in my mind. In any case, this was a movie that turned out to be much better than the book. Absolute visual treat from the beginning to the end. The only complaint I have about this movie is around casting. When the story was clearly set in Pondicherry with Thamizh speaking characters, why not go the extra mile and find actors who could speak Thamizh properly, especially since the characters do actually exchange a few dialogues in Thamizh..?? Why not?? Nevertheless, this is one of those movies that is a must watch. I took 4 kids to the movie hall to watch this movie and surprisingly had very few distractions on account of them.

And just like that, yet another Thanksgiving weekend passes by.