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An outsider’s perspective to Tamil Cinema

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

2011 is now drawing to a close and I don’t expect many Tamil Blockbusters releasing in the next month or so. So I thought of, you know, to write about the Tamil movies I saw here in Chennai on the Big Screen.

Now what made me watch Tamil movies? First of all, some of the biggest film personalities in India are from Tamil cinemas – be it the VERSATILE Kamal Haasan, the GREAT Mani Ratnam or superstar Rajanikanth. I have watched a number of Tamil movies over my lifetime – many owing to the DD regional language stuff that used to come on Sundays along with subtitles during my school days. Many dubbed movies like Bombay and Robot (or Enthiran), thanks to the hype surrounding these movies and also I have seen simultaneous Tamil/Hindi releases like Yuva, Guru and Raavan. But, but, but watching a Tamil movie on the big screen with no subtitles sitting along Tamil speaking audience who in some cases idolize their screen gods is a different experience altogether. Another reason is probably the fact that I wanted to improve my Tamil speaking capabilities (not that I had much to write home about). My mother tongue being Tamil’s closest cousin – Malayalam, understanding the movie should not be a big deal, or so I thought.

The downside to watching movies this way is you have to watch the movie all alone, as I don’t have many Tamil speaking movie – enthu friends in Chennai. But the upside is you have to pay maximum 130 bucks (including 10 bucks for service charges) even in the best multiplex. Well then, here I was in a small theatre in Chennai – to watch KO, since that was the biggest release at that time. I asked the guy at the counter who the main actor was and he replied JEEVA. Now I having heard only about Suryas, Vikrams and Madhavans, was a bit circumspect, but saw Harris Jayaraj on the movie poster and immediately made up my mind. Till this point in time, I had not added Tamil movies to my list of Wikipedia pages and hence the ignorance. But started gaining enough wiki insight before any of the subsequent Tamil movies. KO was a pretty decent movie. The storyline was predictable and ordinary. It had been lifted off from 2009 Hollywood film State of Play starring Russell Crowe. The songs were really good, especially Ennamo Edho. Performance-wise, Jeeva and Ajmaal Ameer were decent. The actresses Karthika Nair and Pia Bajpai were also pretty OK. But many violent scenes and the over-dramatized action sequences left a bad taste in the mouth. Interestingly though, the film is being remade in hindi with Akshay Kumar playing the male lead.

Next in line was Nootrenbadhu or 180 (released in Telugu by the name 180). The interesting storyline and the usually bubbly Nithya Menen were the main reasons I went to watch the movie. Must say, I was pleasantly surprised. The story revolved around a too-good-to-be true kind of nice guy who is suffering from a terminal illness and is given 180 days to live. The story line combined with a not-at-all conventional ending made for a good watch. But sadly though, there were numerous songs distracting the viewer and unnecessarily bringing down the pace of the movie. The song ‘Nee Korinal’ impressed me though. The crowd reaction was the most disappointing. It seemed to me that the crowd got irritated by the whole story line and many started chanting ‘saava da’ etc asking the protagonist to die 😛 . The story, screenplay, direction were all up to mark, considering it was being made by a debutant, Jayendra. Though I am not a big fan of Siddharth, must say he did a fantastic job – the storyline was very much dependent on the main character to put in a credible performance.

Next in line was Avan Ivan. I had not planned to watch Avan Ivan, but I ended up watching it eventually as I couldn’t get tickets for some other movie. Since the director was the famed Bala, I thought I might as well watch the movie. But guess what, a big disappointment. I would partly blame my knowledge of Tamil, or rather lack of it for the movie-disaster. The movie had lot of dialogue-based comedy unlike previous movies and the plot was not all that important. The fact that the movie was not in regular Tamil but a particular dialect made matters worse. There were some songs but they were not at all good. All in all, a bad experience. Vishal though did a fantastic job with his squint eyed performance. His character was a bit effeminate but at the same time he had to display brawn power- muscles and all and bash up the bad guys – he could transform easily from one to another.

Mankatha was next. The media was creating a lot of hype and Mankatha was easily the most anticipated film of the period. Personally, I was just aware of the fact that Ajith was one of the big stars around here. Neither did I not know that this was his 50th film nor the fact that he had such a huge fan following. I watched the movie in ‘Escape cinemas’, the patrons of which I have always felt are quite sophisticated or high-end or whatever. And I was surprised to see lot of whistling and clapping in Ajith’s introductory screen and many other action sequences. The film was really likeable as for first time was I watching a Tamil movie where the main character was out and out negative. And the film successfully made a mockery of stereotypical hero image where the hero is always the good guy and saving his girl from the bad guys, saving the world etc etc etc. The songs were also good. As usual there were a bit too many of them in between but all of them were keeping with the mood of the film – most of them were catchy racy numbers. Ajith as an action hero was a first for me especially considering I had seen him earlier only in Kandunkondain Kandunkondain before this. But he carried it off in style. The rest of the cast too did a fantastic job.

7aum Arivu or 7th sense was also something I had in mind since long time, it being a Murugadoss- Suriya collaboration. It was a good movie, the script, the science fiction touch, the Chinese angle all coming off nicely. Suriya’s and Shruti’s performances were also decent. The special effects and action sequences were top class. Have never seen an Indian movie portray Kung-fu and related martial arts in such a convincing manner. Only at one point, though I thought that the director got carried away a bit– the scene where Nguyen directs many vehicles towards Suriya, the scene just went on and on. As for music, I expected a lot from Harris Jayaraj but the music was not all that good. The songs seemed to slow down the already lengthy movie. Yes, 168 minutes long, but thankfully no song in the last 45 minutes or so which was a relief. While rumours were doing the rounds that the movie has been inspired by Inception, Perfume etc but I found a lot of resemblance to Hugh Jackman starrer ‘The Fountain’. Glad to see the movie was completely original and a welcome change from the typical movies.

I would summarize by comparing my choice of movies with the box-office collection. My choice in the descending order would be Mankatha, Nootrenbadhu, 7aum Arivu, Ko and Avan Ivan. Whereas box-office collection so far has been something like this – Mankatha, 7aum Arivu, Avan Ivan, Ko and Nootrenbadhu, with the first four films coming 1st, 2nd, 5th and 8th at the box office respectively.

Deiva Thirumagal was a complete rip-off of I AM SAM and hence I didn’t watch it. Another biggie coming soon is Osthe which is again a remake of Dabangg.

So strictly speaking, from an outsider’s perspective (and in many ways from a Bollywood perspective), though a number of movies are coming out with new/innovative scripts (and some of them completely original not ripped off from Hollywood which is what most of bollywood does). But such movies are few and far in between – most of the movies are the typical boy loves girl kind of movie.

Special Effects and Action – Impeccable I must say, definitely better than what I see in Bollywood. Acting etc – not capable of adding value added comments as I am not sure of the language and hence can’t comment on dialogue delivery and the finer nuances of acting.

The number of songs is are really irritating and the movie makers should keep it in mind that it is not completely necessary to show the songs in between the movie. You can retain the song in the album, keep it for the beginning or while the end credits are rolling or not have it at all in the movie – just use for promotion, as they do in Bollywood.

That’s it for now. Ciao.

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The star behind Rockstar

November 24, 2011 1 comment

How often have you seen a director repeat the same theme over and over again as if to prove a point?

Case in point is Imtiaz Ali of ‘Jab we Met’ fame who is always trying to explore the realm of ‘FAILED RELATIONSHIPS’ or rather ‘Looking for love somewhere and finding it somewhere else’ formula. He has been trying out different permutations and combinations though. Let’s have a look (Since all the stories are kind of love triangles, I will be talking in terms of the person who makes the choice and the choices/options) :-

Film Person Making Choice Option 1 Option 2 Goes For When realization dawns on Character 1 Drama Quotient Superb Performance Can’t act to save his/her life
Socha Na Tha Abhay DeolUpper Middle Class Aditi Malhotra Ayesha Takia Option 2Upper Middle Class Randomly Simple lives. Quite realistic. Lots of confusion towards the end
Jab We Met Kareena KapoorMiddle Class Tarun Arora Shahid Kapoor Option 2Business Tycoon After Option 1 ditches and Option 2 helps out Lots of missed trains and missed opportunities. Lots of confusion and mayhem Kareena and Shahid Tarun Arora
Love Aaj Kal Deepika PadukoneNRI Saif Ali Khan Rahul Khanna Option 1NRI Just after marriage with Option 2 Indecisiveness and confusion right from the word go Deepika Padukone
RockStar Nargis FakhriSuper Rich Moufid Aziz Ranbir Kapoor Option 2Celebrity Falling ill after marriage with Option 1 Lots of intense drama, pain, romance but No confusion. Great Combination 😛 Ranbir Kapoor Nargis Fakhri

Interestingly enough, almost always the main character goes for Option 2, Only just once did the girl go back to her old lover in Love Aaj Kal.

Let’s look at how Imtiaz Ali has grown over the years:-

1)      ‘Socha na Tha’ was like a breath of fresh air. The all new cast. A simple story. Simple day-to-day kind of conversations. Remnants of this style were still visible in Jab we Met. But the guy has lost that ‘SIMPLE’ touch over the years. His past two movies were typical Bollywood blockbusters with the usual boring dialogues and scenes.

2)      Another thing this guy does is he tries to infuse some surprise elements in the movie, both cast wise and script wise.

Jab we Met – Paired the off screen couple PLUS tried an ‘ON THE RUN’ romance. The title with both English and Hindi words was quite innovative in itself. (Used the same thing for Love Aaj Kal too)

Love Aaj Kal – Started off the movie with a BREAK UP and of casting a Brazilian model as a Punjabi and keeping it a secret was sort of one of the mother of all casting coups.

In Rockstar, you had a half Czech Half Pakistani American model play the lead heroine. On top of that, this time he had another dimension added to the typical love triangle by bringing death into the equation.

3)      Imtiaz Ali, the story teller has grown by leaps and bounds. While the first movie had a linear way of story telling, slowly in Jab We Met, we could easily see that TIME started playing an important role. Some time periods were skipped – there were fast forwards during which the audience is shown only one side of the story and has to keep guessing what could have happened to the other character. And ROCKSTAR’s screenplay took the cake. He successfully kept the audience on its feet by playing non-linearly in time. Not showing Heer (Nargis Fakhri)’s marriage sequence was a GEM in itself.

4)      Usually, an actor’s performance reflects the director’s true potential. Even casting to some extent. (Not to say that Mani Ratnam is not a good director simply because Abhishek Bacchan put up the most pitiable performance by an actor in Raavan). But all credit to Imtiaz Ali. I have never seen Shahid or Kareena act so well in any other movie other than Jab we Met.

Frankly speaking, when the Rockstar’s story first started doing the rounds, I never expected Ranbir to be able to handle a mature character like this. And here he is, sailing through the role  – easily blending into different shades of characters. His gradation from a happy-go-lucky middle class boy to a sad, morose celebrity was simply awesome.

But sadly enough, Imtiaz Ali couldn’t do much to Deepika’s acting and Nargis Fakhri was looking totally out of place specially when her co-star was acting so well.

5)      And finally music – Socha na Tha didn’t have many songs which were noteworthy, but Pritam did a fantastic job in bothe Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal. And for rockstar, the movie being based on music needed special treatment. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. A R Rahman has done a fantastic job as usual.

Well, all is fine if the end result is successful in keeping the audience entertained. And as long as the director is striving for continuous improvement, no harm in telling a SIMILAR story each time.  But, a person’s true quality can be judged by his performance in alien conditions. Ranbir has successfully come out of his ‘comfortable’ Romantic boy role. High time Imtiaz Ali also tries a new formula for his script.

Did crocs hunt T-Rex ???

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Recently I came across an article about how the crocs must have been at the top of the food chain at the time of the dinosaurs and not the top Theropod (non-veggie dinos) predators like T-Rex or Allosaurus. Here’s the link to the article in THE ECONOMIST.

Few points first up:-

1)      I am one of the biggest fans of crocodile. As Charles Darwin put it – “Survival is of the fittest”. And who other than croc to prove that. After all, it is one of the few reptiles who survived the great K-T extinction (Their fellow archosaurs i.e. birds and testudines (or turtles) too survived).

2)      Whether or not crocodile was at the top of the food chain during the Mesozoic Era (251.1 – 65 million years ago), right now, it is an apex predator. On its day (especially in water where it is a force to reckon with), it can easily bring down any carnivore like Lion, or even Tiger for that matter who is in fact an expert swimmer.

But, then again I am not fully agreeable to the fact that crocodiles used to munch on T-Rexes or other big dinosaurs. Let us get some facts right first:-

1)      Dinosaurs alone (like many people think) or dinosaurs and crocodiles alone were not the only reptiles existing in the Mesozoic Era. Of course, we will discount the testudines or turtles. There were few others too:-

  1. Phytosauria, Rauisuchia and Rhynchosauria (these guys were veggies), all of whom were CROCODYLOMORPHA (superorder) or “LIKE CROCS”
  2. Pterosauria , the flying reptiles
  3. Ichthyosauria (The fish-like reptiles, the ones seen in ICE AGE 2)
  4. Plesiosauria ( Again, marine reptiles)

2)                  The big Theropods were not the only ones. As was said for crocodilians, they came in many shapes and sizes. There were raptors, like the famous Velociraptor and many others.

3)                  It is almost a proven fact that T-Rex and other big ones were not hunters but scavengers. Their heavy structure and short fore limbs or hands meant that they could not run fast as shown in the movies. Rather they would eat whatever is left of a large diplodocus after a pack of raptors have had their fill.

4)                  I, for one believe that each predator would have its own niche environment. If the Supercroc used to rule the Saharan swamps, it might have been some dinosaur (or maybe some croc) who would have ruled the southern part of Africa.

So, what I am coming to say is that we cannot just for a fact say that crocodiles were the top predators and hunted even the theropods. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, the crocodilians the author is referring to are not actually crocodiles and are just crocodylomorpha and not the direct ancestors of present day crocodile. Of course, even they were present as a part of crocodylomorpha. But again, even to assume that the Crocodylomorpha would rule the roost is too much to assume.

There would definitely have been lot of diversity and lot many diverse ecosystems back then just like today. So if the ornithopods (or the veggies) substitute for the present day herbivores and the theropods substitute for the present day big cats, the crocs or crocodylomorpha would have eaten only the ornithopods (and maybe some small theropods hear and there) and not all theropods. Even today the crocs make a meal of the herbivores without eating the carnivores. And sometimes, a big herbivore (like a hippo in water or elephant on land) is too much for a croc to handle. And throw in a bunch of water dwelling Plesiosaurs and Ichthyosaurs, I am sure even they would have fallen prey to the crocodiles (can’t say for sure though – even they could have never co-existed).

In conclusion, looking at current crocodiles, it was pretty obvious their ancestors would definitely have been pretty aggressive hunters. But, unless we see crocodiles’s teeth-marks on theropod’s skull or vice- versa, we can safely assume that both were apex predators and were at the top of their respective food chains. It is not necessary that they eat each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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