Sunday, October 17, 2010

The etymology of Tamil movies demystified

What's in a name? The lines that appear in Shakespeare's ever-immortal love classic, Romeo and Juliet, definitely mean a lot to the film producing community from Kodambakkam, who know that on many an occasion, it is the film's title that can pull in the crowds, or can at least be their lone saving grace. Piracy, escalating budgets, intervention from the so-called 'protectionists' of Tamil culture and undue attention on the attire of the leading lady in the movie form just the tip of the iceberg of the issues that producers may need to invest time than just making the movie (with the last two factors being synonymous with one another).
Hence, I take the liberty of suggesting a few guidelines to such beleaguered entertainment inducers to help them arrive at suitable movie titles.

Guideline no 1: Adapt the protagonist's name as the movie title
Perhaps the easiest method to name a movie, this technique is also the most common practice in vogue. Examples for this are available dime a dozen. Beginning with MGR’s Vikramadhithyan, ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan’s Manohara or Veerapandiya Kattabomman, to Kamalhaasan’s Satya or Singaravelan or Rajinikanth’s Pandiyan, Muthu, Veera, Padaiyappa and Sivaji or Vijaykanth’s Captain Prabhakaran or Ramana, producers once employed this technique to rake in the moolah by the tonne (and continue to do so with mixed results). This does not mean that this technique is completely free of discrepancies, as would the producers of the spy-thriller dud Kandhaswamy or Kollywood’s cross breed between MI and James Bond flicks to name a few, Narasimha, which met with bankruptcy at the BO, attest to.

Guideline no 2: Name your movie after a ferocious animal
An eloquent method this, the reasons for it being favoured by many are:

One, the title tends to convey a feeling of panache (Remember the iconic Rajini blockbusters Murattu Kalai and Paayum Puli?). A movie named after a carnivore gives the viewer the impression that an action (read as comprising innumerable implausible fight sequences where the hero emerges triumphant) potboiler awaits them. Surya’s recent release Singam (lion), Vijay’s latest addition to his list of cinematic failures, which even his die-hard fan might cast aspersions before sitting through its screening, Sura (shark), and even Tollywood’s recent production, Puli (tiger), swear by this dictum.
As with its predecessor, this method, too, is replete with failures, with Ramarajan’s Seeri varum kaalai (The raging bull), in what was touted to be his comeback movie, Simbu’s Kaalai (it must be agreed that the bull’s contribution as a muse to movie titles is immense!), and the not so recent movie, Naaikutty (puppy) being shining examples.
Two, the awe-inspiring attributes of the animal get attached to the movie’s hero, giving him the larger-than-screen image, a must for most actors if their movies are to even break even, leave alone completing a 50-day run in theatres.
Three, chances of the movie running into a controversy with self-proclaimed linguists or protectionists of Tamil culture are negligible if, for instance, your movie is titled Keeri (the mongoose) than, say, Hello Mister. The reason being an English title, according to such persons, leads to the inevitable decay of Tamil tradition and culture than a movie that parades its heroine(s) in itsy-bitsy costumes and has its script laced with double-entendres!

Guideline no 3: Seek ‘inspiration’ from the past
When the entire plot of a movie can be lifted straightaway and packaged again with a newer cast, can plagiarism of movie titles be far behind?
Examples here as easily available as the pirated DVD/VCD of the movie peddled on our streets.
Should we begin with the titles of Rajinikanth’s yesteryear flicks that have resurrected Dhanush’s (his son-in-law) once tattered cinematic career – Polladhavan and Padikkadhavan - or the one that did the same to Karthi, Surya’s sibling, Naan Mahaan Alla, or Lawrence Ragavender’s mind-numbing take on the yesteryear hit Rajathi Raja? Titles of MGR’s movies - Kollywood's hero of the masses until the 80's, that have been recycled – Aayirathil Oruvan, Vettaikkaran, Anbe Vaa, or the yet to be released Kaavalkaaran. The cognomina of jubilee hits of ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan, including Uthamaputhiran, Bale Pandiya, Thiruvilayaadal and Anbe Aaruyire, either failed to make an impact in the box-office, or were mostly in the news for the wrong reasons. Ditto with other yesteryear hits such as Ninaithale Inikkum, Nayagan, Nootrukku Nooru and the much-hyped Namitha flick during Diwali last, Jaganmohini. Hence, this underlines the fact that movie titles of the fab-four of Tamil cinema, MGR, Shivaji, Rajini and Kamal, are among the most sought after for adaptation and can by themselves guarantee only fleeting success.
Alternately, lines from songs from such successful movies can be selected for titling a movie if the producer wants to save on unwanted attention.

Guideline no 4: Name your movie after a town in Tamil Nadu
A long-lost method to name a movie, a director by name Perarasu is to be credited (or vilified) for its resurrection. Reason: his movies, Thirupachi, Sivakasi, Palani, Thiruvannamalai and Dharmapuri, to name a few, are all named after towns in Tamil Nadu. Critics may point out that this method is rather defensive, for the title is suggestive of where the movie can possibly have a good run. Therefore, it makes sense that your movie is named after bigger cities in the state and not after towns whose names induce gags like Namakkal or Paramakkudi!
Glossary: Other examples in this regard include Madhiya Chennai, Tirunelveli, Madura and Malaikottai.

Guideline no 5: When nothing else works, turn to god
Taking a leaf out of US currency notes that bear the words, “In god we trust”, Kollywood’s fraternity hit upon the ultimate mélange for a movie theme – hero worship tempered with divinity, which eventually was beaten to death. Tamil Nadu’s original superstar, M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, whose “Bhagavathar crop” was a hit with the Gen-X of the 40’s and 50’s, employed this method to the hilt to deliver a string of silver-jubilee hits such as Haridas and Sivakavi (Fans of Rajnikanth who brag about 100 or 200 day runs of his movies at the BO, take note), before his rather unceremonious exit from the industry. It can be said that Sivaji Ganesan was the next to obtain the baton of divinity, by delivering a slew of Hindu mythology-inspired hits – Thiruvilayaadal, his watershed blockbuster in Eastman Colour, Kandan Karunai, Saraswathiyin Sabadham and Karnan. Mythology flick director Ram Narain gave the much needed twist to this genre by introducing animals as vital characters in his movies. Suddenly, the demand for on-screen cows, goats, monkeys, dogs and even elephants increased drastically, and it seemed for a while that humans as actors may not needed at all! Let us thank god that he had to flog this theme, leading to its eventual disillusionment.
Thiruvilayaadal saw Sivaji reprising the role of the destroyer of the divine trinity of Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva, and the movie till date continues to draw in the crowds whenever it is screened. Dealers of camphor, coconuts and arathi plates must probably be offering their obeisance to Lord Shiva even in their dreams due to the brisk business they do in front of such theatres than at the markets or temples. Enough said.
Ergo, this method has little to offer for filmmakers, unless the release of the movie is timed along with a religious festival or an observance of a ritual.

Guideline no 6: Follow the TR ‘rhyme’ way!

If at all there is a contender for the title of “Impresario of Tamil Nadu”, it has to be T Rajender, Kollywood’s one-man ace director, producer, actor, music composer, editor, screenplay writer (and possibly, even the audience!). Superstar Rajinikanth may hold sway over the teeming masses, however, movie DVDs and CDs of TR, as he is popularly known, continue to do brisk business. Beginning from Thaai thangai paasam, Oru thalai ragam to Mythili ennai kaathali, Kaadhal azhivathillai and the gag-a-minute Veerasaamy, films of India’s veritable limerick man blend a form of poetry that borders on irrelevance, leaving even the stone-hearted in splits. It remains to be seen whether an ensemble of veteran Tamil film comedians - Nagesh, Chandrababu, Balaiyya and V K Ramaswamy - would have withstood the humorous onslaught of TR. His movies ensure that you have tummy ache in what can be called a laughter marathon, for such is the absurdity of aspect in them. Any comedy/satire/parody show in TN will be incomplete without a generous swipe at this misguided genius of a filmmaker, amply exemplified by the enormity of suggestions that appear when the word “TR” is merely typed on the Google or YouTube toolbar.
MTV may have made waves in 1993 by creating the character Quick Gun Murugan, however, had they turned to this bearded film personality for inspiration, they could have probably shot TRP ratings into the upper echelons of the stratosphere with utmost ease!
Those desiring humorous titles for their movies only need to frame a title that ends in a rhyme. The rest, as they say, will be history!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kouravargal: A cheap imitation of Thalapathy

Thalapathy, Mani Ratnam's magnum opus in 1991 starring Rajinikanth and Mammootty, focused on the Karna-Duryodhana sub-plot of the Indian epic Mahabharatha. That filmmakers continue to evoke inspiration from this movie even 19 years after its release is an ode to its profound impact on Tamil cinema.
Meanwhile, the makers of Kouravargal, a movie that 'adapts' portions of Thalapathy blatantly, as have many films in the past, need to realise that not all imitations of past blockbusters have met with success.
The plot in Kouravargal, if it can be called that, revolves around the friendship between Thondaiman (Satyaraj), a godfather like figure who upholds morals by punishing the un-righteous, and Ganesan (Vignesh), an unemployed youth.
Kouravargal begins with Ganesan getting jailed for beating up the son of Dandapani, the local MLA, for misbehaving with a woman (Geetha (Monica)).
Finding out that Ganesan has been jailed wrongly, Thondaiman frees him and requests him to be a part of his activities, to which the former acquiesces readily. Meanwhile, Bhagawan (Alex), a friend-turned-foe of Thondaiman, constantly plots the latter's downfall.
As tradition dictates, Geetha, who is the sister-in-law of Nayanan (Ranjith), the police commissioner, falls in love with Ganesan, which ruffles Dandapani.
This coerces the MLA to conspire with Nayanan to plot Ganesan and Thondaiman's downfall. The remainder of the movie is about which faction emerges triumphant. (The similarities between Kouravargal and Thalapathi are more than just a coincidence!)
Among the actors, Satyaraj manages to hold his own, with the others ending up emoting beyond what is needed, leading to a deluge of emotions. The character of the sycophant of Dandapani as the ever-smiling assistant with his hands in a permanent namaskar evokes the much needed laughter.
Other major minuses in Kouravargal are its dialogues, which could have done with a good dosage of brevity and a long-drawn climax that puts to test the patience of its audience.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book review: Children of a different god

A crash course in human emotions

How many times have we seen people getting admonished as ‘mental’ for doing something stupid or silly? Haven’t we as children teased or labeled our classmates for doing something similar way back in school, without fully knowing what the word implies? Apart from conditions such as progeria and dyslexia that have been popularised by the recent Bollywood releases Paa and Taare Zameen Par, can our country’s educated populace list out a few more disorders that afflict the differently-abled, without having to google for them?
That the portrayal of the differently-abled in Indian commercial movies is far from realistic needs no introduction. In fact, it would be an understatement to say that our woods - Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and the like – have created the most inaccurate of the impressions in our minds about such persons. Think mental, and you immediately conjure the image of individuals with unpleasant appearances who are always subject to violent mood swings. Children Of A Better God, written by Susmita Bagchi in Oriya as Deba Shishu and translated into English by Prof Bikram K Das, a Sahitya Akademi awardee, answers such questions by stressing on the fact that spastic children are normal too, and react identically when subjected to the same stimuli.
Children… follows the travails of Anupurba, the wife of an IT employee and an art teacher at a primary school in the US, whose husband has been asked suddenly to relocate to Bangalore. Not knowing what to do after coming back to India, Anupurba stumbles upon a long lost friend who persuades her to work at a school for spastic children. The rest of the story is all about the protagonist acquainting herself with the children in the school and the persons behind its operation, before she launches into making a difference for these children.
Scan quickly through the book and you would realize that the author, wife of Subroto Bagchi, chief executive, Mindtree Consulting Inc., has managed to draw most of the characters in the book from real life. The IT executive who has been asked to move to India from the US to handle a development centre, the two NRI siblings who are finding it difficult adjusting in their home country, the divorced young woman who is waiting for her boyfriend to move in with her and the caretaker who is trying to make both ends meet with her meager salary are all persons that we, at various instants, have encountered in our daily lives, such that reading the book can give one the surreal experience of having personally visited a typical Indian metro. Susmita’s attempts to portray the landscape of Bangalore in the book can be likened to Michelangelo’s efforts in painting the Sistine Chapel, such that the reader gains a fair impression about roads in the city when he is done with reading the book (which also means the book doubles up as a rough tourist guide). The IT-belt in the city – Sarjapur Road, Koramangala, Airport Road and Whitefield-ITPL - receives special mention. Incidentally, Mindtree’s offices in the city are located in the above mentioned areas, so it should not come as a surprise to the reader if the author has decided to adapt real-life settings in her book. Also, watch out for special trivia tidbits like, for instance, the reasons behind the name of the locality Marathalli.
A common complaint leveled against works translated into English from Indian languages is that the translated versions do not retain the actual essence of the original. Prof Das, a former professor of English at Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, puts such fears to rest by employing simple language in translating Children…, as its characters not only enraptures us, but also ensure that we have a lump in our throats.
Children... may not probably win an award for an intricate plot and setting, for it simply doesn’t have one. In fact, the reader may be able to predict the plot to a certain extent, which in no way is the book’s undoing. If at all the book has a drawback, or if it can be called that, it is the rapid pace at which characters and the lives behind them are introduced to the reader; however, this is more than made up for by their careful and realistic portrayal.
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, the reader is able to form impressions about the characters clearly due to the manner in which human reactions have been brought out. One stand-out scene from the book in my opinion is when Anupurba, who is visiting the spastic school for the first time, gets overwhelmed by a sea of emotion when she realises that the children are staring at her lovingly, as if in hope that she will be able to make a difference to their lives, when she herself has her apprehensions about the same. As if in a reflex, Anupurba suddenly remembers about her children and starts feeling anxious for them, which in essence is basic human tendency and is the major factor that drives Children…