Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vamsam - Review

After delivering a path-breaking film as "Pasanga", Pandiraj would have indulged himself in a stream of thoughts if he should pick a so familiar one-liner for his next film. The sheer confidence that he would have had with his script and the kind of homework & research that has gone into it are apparent in the output as "Vamsam" stands apart way ahead of the films of this genre, with the fresh perspective it brings in. If the film's line has to be expressed with minimum spoilers, it would be - A clash between two individuals (belonging to two different lineages of a particular community) in a rural setting. 

The film is set in a rustic & rural upcountry in southern Tamilnadu, which has a significant population of the "devar" community. There are eleven lineages in the village each of which is supposed to have a distinct occupation or skillset. The film's script is mostly engrossed with the antipathy & vengeance that  brews between the descendants of two lineages (Arulnidhi, the protagonist and Jayaprakash). So much detailing & specifications are presented in depicting the 11 day revelry (thiruvizha held on an annual basis) and the murders that are meticulously planned & executed during the gala. There's a social dictum in place at the village that any death that happens during the above period shouldn't disturb the festivities and hence if somebody is unfortunate enough to die/to be murdered during the period, they will be cremated without the last rites and ceremonies, earning them a bad reputation after death.

The film opens with the display of various cultural mores in a thiruvizha setting (much similar to that of "Paruthi Veeran") with a hint of hostility between Arulnidhi and Jayaprakash. There is so much details left with the thiruvizha itself that Pandiraj chooses to narrate the entire proceedings (of the thiruvizha) via a police constable to his chief. The way the romantic sequences are narrated (with Asin) and the picturisation of songs are applaudable. The flash-back episode with Kishore as the rekhla specialist was a cracker of a sequence. The comedy track with the mobile conversations on the rooftops and treetops are interspersed well through the script.

The focal selling point of the movie, in my opinion, is the exquisite "anthropological detailing" that has been interwoven throughout the movie. Various social and cultural aspects of the community life are brought on screen in a vivid manner. Efforts worth a documentary on the ethnography of the community has gone in and the movie was an interesting ride on this aspect. The names of the lineages, thiruvizha sequences, arrack & pork, the aloe dagger, varieties of "Silambam" offer some examples of the details depicted. One another movie which can be discussed here with respect to the "detailing" part (only) is Selvaraghavan's "Pudhupettai". "Pudhupettai" presented various first-on-screen details on the life in the Chennai underworld and the ascendancy in the political stature of the Mafioso.  

One concern which may require a consideration is - the celebration of Casteism and violence seen extensively in our movies these days. In a modern day context where we are discussing whether or not to include "Caste" in the Census, movies featuring explicit names of the castes and communities may collaterally create a "halo" around it, glamorising the whole idea. I can certainly remember the impact that the titles of the movies like "Chinna Gounder", "Devar Magan" etc had in me and my friends during the school days. So, it (caste politics in cinema) actually matters !. Ofcourse, cinema mirrors the society (in a way) and casteism is something so deep-rooted that cinema can't quite manage to keep it off-topic. And, the movie certainly underscores the folklore surrounding the bravery of the Devars and Maravars, connoting a profound charm around the physical chivalry which carry little or no significance in a post-feudalistic society.

Speaking about the performances - the debutant Arulnidhi, if not way too impressive, will certainly pass the ordeal. Sunaina, the village belle looks in perfect sync with the character. The characterization has been impressive with all the gallantry it is coded with. I  somehow couldn't conform with all those roles of an urban-modern chic which she had donned in her previous movies and this role looks tailor-made for her. Jayaprakash and Kishore are shaping up well as the next-gen character artistes (with men like Nasser & Radharavi  in the twilight of their careers) - stellar performances from both of them. Ganja Karuppu and Anupama Kumar were also impressive. 

The music was by the debutant Taj Noor. Two songs "Maruthani Poova" and "En Nenje" were impressive for me. The cinematography and editing departments were also handled by debutants, Mahesh and Yogabhaskar respectively  - Inspiring effort from both of them especially the editing with the "thiruvizha" sequence deserves a special appreciation. 

Dialogues - not too much effort has gone in presenting the dialect of the region ... The leads were both Botany graduates and that explains it though. The celebration of agriculture as a profession was stressed at more instances than one and kudos for that.

One criticism that has to be lodged with Pandiraj's scripts is that they tend to become so much "cinematic-n-filmy" towards the end. The entire hospital hoopla of "Pasanga" and the one on one duel here at "Vamsam" both share this very weakness. With all the novelty in storytelling he tries to employ throughout the movie, the build-up towards the climax loses the punch and becomes way too predictable. Pandiraj somehow yields to the sacred rules of "masala cinema" that prevail, as the film draws a close.

In an industry where one-film-wonders are not scarce, there will always be a considerable "pressure-to-perform" irk on a director (unless your dad is a producer). On those lines, Pandiraj has definitely lived up to the expectations, displaying a genuine ability in filmmaking with his latest offering. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Vetty Post #1

Free Free Free !!!
I found myself engulfed with a "WTF" question mark as I bought this week's issue of the tamil magazine "Anantha Vikatan". Well, the reason is there for yourself.

The caption stated thus, "இந்த இதழுடன் ஸ்டேப்ரீ செக்யூர் அல்ட்ரா தின் கேட்டு வாங்குங்கள்". 

A mainstream magazine that is typically targeting people of all age groups of both the sexes, offers a freebie (i.e) Sanitary pad. 

Have they gone insane ? Had this been a women's magazine like "Aval Vikatan" or "Mangayar Malar" or "Penmani", I can understand the intent. While I am not trying to bring in here any sexist or gender connotations (with respect to the popular culture), I am trying to understand the very "purpose" of the product offered for "free". Has Vikatan received any statistical information that the "only" subscribers of their magazine are women of the age-group 15 to 45 ?


Got to view Anand Patwardhan's riveting documentary "Prisoners of Conscience", which features interview footage with some of the "Political prisoners" who were imprisoned during India's Emergency  (1975 to 1977). The visual imagery and the credibility it offers (for only 41 minutes though) is definitely no match to volumes and volumes of print literature that may exist.

You actually find it difficult to understand and accept the facts that are presented - the kind of gross disenfranchisement of civil rights, the devoidness of social justice, political and social unrest, arrest without trials, MISA, "Tortures" in the prison etc. 
Is this India ?, Is this the country which is hailed the Greatest democracy ?.

While the cinema and press of the period have remained largely "silent" (Or they were silenced ?), the original archival footage this documentary offers will stand as an important political record of a traumatic period in India's history. While the film has limited it's scope largely by just presenting a series of edited montages featuring interviews with the "victims", it has an interview with Jayaprakash Narayan and hence for me, is worth the time and effort. That said, the presentation of the documentary is neither lucid nor cogent and will not serve somebody to actually understand the whole mess (i.e) India during Emergency.

A tiny photo essay with the screenshots from the documentary.

Indira Gandhi, the Ironhand

JP.Narayan, the firebrand
As long as there are "Prisoners of Conscience" or the "Political prisoners" in jail, the expectations from the Janata party haven't been fulfilled and I think there should be a continuous pressure on the Janata party government .. Also, I believe the time might come when some kind of a mass movement (of the people) might become neccessary ... the public opinion, young people, Sarvodaya movement, the press - all these should help in this process.
- Jayaprakash Narayan (in 1978)