Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Kalyana Samayal Saadham (2013)

Kalyana Samayal Saadham (KSS) picks an aspect of marriage that usually goes undiscussed in our cinema - impotency. Whether or not it is a permanent medical complication, a matter of sexual compatibility or a stress-induced temporary state can be attributed to detailing, but one could sense that the movie shunned away from topic through out its course the typical tamil cinema way. KSS chooses to instill humour into all the situations arising out and comically dismisses Raghu's (Prasanna) problem. When Meera (Lekha Washington) delivered the "Let's assume you are impotent, so what ?!" line, she appeared as if she was receiving the Tamil-culture-girl baton directly from Vadivukkarasi of Kanni Paruvathile (1979). The detailed procession of the wedding through the second half of the movie is probably a black critique on the system of arranged marriages - the unimportant modus operandi taking the center stage while nobody seems to care about important aspects such as the one presented in the film - impotency of the bridegroom.

One can observe that the movie assumes an elitist and urban setting with the tamil brahmin wedding and a complete song featuring facebook template etc, but the issue addressed is definitely universal. I definitely felt a bit let down with the way the script tackled Prasanna's problem with no honesty or intensity, expecting a psychological study of the problem in the context of a relationship. But the movie still deserves credit for bringing such topics into discussion, considering the mindless escapist stuff dished out in the name of mainstream entertainment in tamil cinema.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

For Cinephilia, Cheers !

 I was one of the insatiables. The ones you'd always find sitting closest to the screen. Why do we sit so close? Maybe it was because we wanted to receive the images first. When they were still new, still fresh. Before they cleared the hurdles of the rows behind us. Before they'd been relayed back from row to row, spectator to spectator; until worn out, secondhand, the size of a postage stamp, it returned to the projectionist's cabin. Maybe, too, the screen was really a screen. It screened us... from the world.
- The Dreamers (2003), Bernardo Bertolucci

Caught this during the second watch. The film made such an indelible impression the first time about three years back ... Cinephilia, Paris student revolts, Eva Green's tits, to name a few. Call it confusion or confluence, there's not another work of art that is going to see such a flawless amalgamation of all those romantic ingredients - eroticism, politics and cinema.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Indhu (1994), Prabhudeva and the 'Gaana' genre

The title, I realize, sounds a bit presumptuous but this is not going to be a comprehensive post on the Gaana music or Prabhudeva. I just set out to register things that struck me while I was checking out the 1994 Prabhudeva starrer 'Indhu'.

It can be safely said that I was drawn towards the movie purely by my nostalgia for its songs, otherwise the movie's plot is so awfully all over the place. Youtube watching of all the song videos would have sufficed !. Deva's album for Indhu has a special fascination for me, I have very vivid memories of listening to them as a 8-9 year old and I knew all those lyrics by-heart back then. We were living in a close-knit neighborhood those days and our neighbor with a tape recorder played the album so many times that i practically sang along those lines with the speakers all the time. I remember that my mom always disapproved me of singing those verses aloud and now I understand why !. References to female body & sexual overtones are an essential feature of all the songs in the album. Almost all the songs in the album (except may be 'Metro channel') can be categorized under the filmy Gaana genre.

'Gaana' as a musical genre was born in urban slums and it even has a certain plausible dalit origin. When 'Gaana' songs made it into the cinema, they were tempered a bit to suit mainstream consumption. Even on that level, Vaali's lyrics for Indhu's album are so much over the board (pointing 'mainstream' again) making misogyny in filmy gaana an understatement. A few examples would be 'Ulla theriyum Nayudu hall', 'back a paatha bens car', 'nellu kutha edam kodutha maatikkuva oralukulla' etc. Films usually had one gaana song, usually shot as an item number but with so many gaana songs in the album, Indhu gains a representative significance. I think tamil cinema is well past its gaana glory .. gone are the days of Deva, the most prominent filmy gaana composer of the 90s.

Going back to Indhu the film, somebody should have been thinking of a good launch vehicle to sell Prabhudeva's excellent dancing abilities and forged together this particular film. By 1994, 'Chikku bukku Rayile (Gentleman)' and 'Lalaakku dol dappi ma (Suriyan)' have made Prabhudeva a familiar face among the tamil audience and hence somebody was encouraged to really invest in a whole movie selling his dance repertoire. 'Indhu' is his first movie in a lead role and he had a decent acting career to show off following this film. If we were to put in some kind of detailed research into all those songs that Prabhudeva danced to, we might be able to theorize the (urban ?!) youth culture of the 90s in Tamilnadu. More than Rajinis, Kamals or any other film stars during his times, I think these will offer a lot of insight in that direction. Just think of the long list we will have - Indhu, Raasaiya, Mr Romeo, Kaathalan etc. I also always thought his dance moves carried a certain trashiness (can't put forward with a better word - i actually mean inelegant), they were quite fast & hence difficult to follow, may be they were choreographed intentionally to be inimitable, at least in the most famous numbers that i could recall he wore baggies or lungi-pattapatti combo when he danced. I would like to associate these with the specific audience his songs (and movies) addressed, thereby pointing again to the youth culture of the 90s.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Deutschland Bleiche Mutter (1980)

Some spoilers ahead !

Deutschland Bleiche Mutter (DBM) as a film has to be placed firmly in context. The viewer has to be aware of a little bit of history - the Nazi Germany, post-war trauma and the Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung - for instance. The film was made in 1980 - the German unification was still a decade away and the east-west division was fully in place. DBM is directed by a female director, Helma Sanders-Brahms and that adds a different dimension to the film's perspective concerning agony of the war and motherhood.

The film is not objective at all and thus is very slow paced. The first half of the film extends as a road film with Lene (Eva Mettes) walking through the forests & seasons with her new born infant. While on a casual stroll, my actual connect with the film came when Lene gets raped by the allied soldiers and when she remarks "the victors' right, little girl". From that point on my entire perception of the film had a whole new notion that, Lene (as the mother) is the metaphor for Deutschland herself. While I am not sure if it was intended, the film made much more sense on an abstract level after that point. Lene's paralysis on one side of the face, Lene losing all her teeth to avoid the spread of the paralysis, Lene covering one side of the face with a dark veil, her troubled relationship with her husband, her unexplained anger on her daughter - all suggested the disarmament, the east-west division and the mental trauma that the war brought to the society.

Eva Mettes' stupendous performance stands-out and she obviously carries the film almost single-handedly. Her face conveys an infectious gloominess right from frame one preparing us for that epic tragedy - the climax.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Collector sir ...

Thalapathy (1991), Mani Ratnam

   "motham aruvathu naalu case ... Devaraj melayum ... Surya melayum"

Thus began the most impactful scene of Mani Ratnam's Thalapathy (1991). The scene was the first meeting between the new district collector Arjun (Aravindswamy) and the mafia kingpins Surya (Rajinikanth) and Devaraj (Mammooty). It is a clash, a conflict, a contest, all of friction and tension - spectacularly shot, directed and enacted - it was just impeccable. 

The scene assumes a temporary harmony when Surya starts explaining his point of view in a composed tone. 

"Collector sir, neenga eppovavadhu ezhaiya irundhirukeengala ... ?"

And then hostility starts to build up in subsequential exchanges and the conversation reaches a clear break-down when Arjun declares in all his capacity ...

"Unga katthalukku indha oor jananga bayapaduvanga, naan bayappada matten"

Surya's "thodra paakkalam" outburst not only gives an idea of the inflammability of the whole exchange but also suggests like the tip of the iceberg, the whole rivalry that might ensue. As predictable in tamil cinema conflicts, the individual has to rise above and counter the system (police, government, administration, feudal setups). This scene is a definitive illustration of this recurring individual-larger-than-system theme in tamil cinema. 

The scene was like a stunningly written prose, well constructed point by point, arguments built-up step by step, camera probing from face to face capturing the clash of the egos in all details, reaching the crescendo with that masterclass from Ilayaraja.
"niruthanum ellathayum niruthanum ... MUDIYATHU"
It was a collaboration of the geniuses of their crafts - Mani Ratnam, Santosh Sivan, Ilayaraja, Rajinikanth, Mammooty, Nagesh and Aravindswamy. The result was simply magnificient and thus Aravindswamy became one of the lasting impressions of the image of an IAS collector as far as tamil cinema is concerned. There are others too !!

Iraniyan (1999), Vincent Selva

 Surya Vamsam (1997), Vikraman

Thevar Magan (1992), Bharathan

 Indira (1996), Suhasini Maniratnam

Monday, September 3, 2012

Street Art - Berlin

Berlin is a city of scars, being so much the center of politics, conflict, war and destruction for the most part of last century. Everything in Berlin, the monuments, memorials, statues, architecture tell a sorry story with which Berliners (and Germans) are still trying to come to terms with. Berlin's streets in contrast are so much vibrant, colorful and full of life (for a Karlsruher the effect was much more pronounced). Trying to consume all images and people I encountered, I was having an eye on the street art graffiti in Berlin. To actually tour around the city with a camera, shooting the best of the creative street-art scene would take about a week I suppose. Nevertheless I just present what I had in my camera here. 

Berlin's counterculture scene dates back atleast to the mid and late 1960s student protests. Graffitis are a form of counterculture, non-conformity with the existent social ethos, an act of cultural defiance and more importantly a recognized art form. By the way, Yuppicide is the word of the trip and that's Berlin for me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Samsara (2011)

A poem need not be an explanation, it should be able to paint a much wider and deeper canvas than what is being presented as words. A good poem inspires imagination, evokes soul search, kindles an intellectual discourse - all much larger than the poem itself. Samsara is one such poem on 70mm film and to say that it was stunning to experience Samsara on the big-screen is just an understatement.

Samsara's idea of aesthetics mostly relies on the "Stop motion" and "Motion capture" techniques, so to state - finding an order in all randomness, finding the beauty in all chaos. It transcends the audience into a particular psychological state whereby you are forced to concentrate on the patterns and the topography than the individual discrete units that make up the pattern.

Samsara with all its calmness and soul-embracing music is an expression of contempt in all rigour. It sounded like a harsh critique on the perils of the human civilization, for me. The footage covers arms industry, the adult toy industry, electronics recycling, plastic rag picking, automobile wrecking, car manufacture, African tribals, the skyscrapers, the Buddhist monks in Asia etc, portraying a real comprehensive worldview. Wherever (the fewer times) the human faces look into the camera, they do so with so much rigidity or discernible anger or compassion or self-pity, it looked like they are making a profound political statement.

Several juxtapositions resonated hard in me - the entire sequence about the meat (animal flesh) industry is followed by prostitutes with number tags exhibiting their bodies, the operations in the dairy industry (machines milking the cows sequence) is followed by a lot of piglets feeding on a pig all raised for slaughtering, the symmetrical/shiny bullets is followed by an army general with so many medals and a disfigured face. 

It will all sound like a philosophical rant but Samsara underlines the human greed, lack of compassion, the human idea of conquest, religious & ethnic chauvinism, exploitation of human labor, war, hunger, death and so on. The footage interspersed with the actual nature - skies, deserts, waterfalls, volcanoes - shows us all the kind of harmony that is expected of the human beings as a part of this wonderful system. May be somebody else who saw the same movie in the same hall would have looked at the brighter side of things - beauty, harmony, symmetry, patterns, love, music, peace - with Samsara. And hence is Samsara's greatness, vastness, prodigiousness and rhythmicness.