Saturday, February 26, 2011

Seedan: Cinderella with desi twist

Appeared in Expresso, the daily supplement of The New Indian Express on February 27, 2011

If the story of Seedan (the disciple), a remake of the Malayalam movie Nandanam, were to be written on the back of a bus ticket, it would go as follows: a poor woman falls in love with a rich man and finally gets married to him.
The script makes a departure from a long-established trend by letting a feminine protagonist taking up most of the screen time.
Mahalakshmi (Ananya), is an orphan employed in a rich household in the temple town of Pazhani. She is the ideal homely woman - devout, demure and virtuous. Her employer, Amrithavalli (veteran Malayalam actress Sheela), is extremely fond of her. However, her work leaves her with no time to visit the shrine of Lord Muruga, and she fervently wishes that she gets a chance to do so. In her dreams, she visualises getting married to a handsome man.
Mano (Krishna Nair), Amrithavalli’s grandson, visits the place, and its love at first sight for them. Mahalakshmi later reveals to Mano that she had visualised him as the prince charming of her dreams. When love is in the air, can obstacles be far behind? Thangam (Suhasini Mani Rathnam), Mano's mother, is taken aback and immediately fixes a match for her son.
Saravanan (Dhanush, in a cameo) shores up proceedings in the second half with his philosophical one-liners, which are eerily similar to those from yesteryear hits of his father-in-law, Superstar Rajnikanth. In a larger-than-life role, Saravanan provides Mahalakshmi the much-needed succour in her hour of adversity.
Although there isn't much to brag about the screenplay, the first half of the movie could have done with a good dose of briskness.
The cast boasts of A-list small screen actors, including Ponvannan and Ilavarasan.
Vivek, as Gummi Swamy, a fake godman, inspires only stifled gags in a worn out and cliched comedy track that is absolutely bereft of humour.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The facets of facing one's music!

It may be hard to believe that the omnipotent back up alarm, a device that turns on whenever the four-wheeler on which it has been installed upon is in reverse, has ushered in a revolution in all spheres of life.

Strange, indeed, are the ways of nature, for the device mentioned above was able to achieve what no marriage counselor would have. A newly-married couple, my neighbours, narrated to me this incident that perplexed me ever after. Things had been fine for a while after marriage, they say, when disagreements and arguments made its way into their “and they lived happily ever after” part of life. “We used to return from work in evening and erupt as if by clockwork. My husband and I used to vent our anger at our Chinaware, our marriage gifts, which were trashed within six months,” they recollect. I stare at our partition wall, which, if I were able to converse in its dialect, like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, would have in between sobs pointed to its scratches and strips of peeled paint, while explaining that it was at the receiving end of their acrimony. “If that is so, how do you eat?” I was tempted to ask, when the wife says that it was during one such incident that she realised that there were no vessels to break in the house and stormed out, when the strains of Celine Dion’s “My heart will go on” from a neighbour’s back up alarm, who was attempting parallel parking for the last two hours, melted her heart, as she ran back into the arms of her husband, never to argue again with him.

Another neighbour of mine, too, has a story to tell. He was unsuccessfully married five times and recently inherited a fortune from a relative. Worried that the romantic strains of the car parking alarm may stir his heart into another marriage, and an eventual divorce, necessitating a split in the inheritance, he has invested in double sound-proofed doors and windows and a music player with noise-cancelling headphones. He adds that he plays heavy metal or rock on his player and wears the earphones whenever he steps out of the house.

Talk about spin-off investment.

I assumed this too weird to be true, when I was handed a reality check by the next day’s papers that covered in detail a gargantuan traffic pile-up at the highway due to the ubiquitous back up alarm. Apparently, this vehicle owner had synchronised his iPod with his car alarm such that his favourite melodies could be played when he was taking the reverse. His nerves were soothed such that he had fallen asleep at the wheel, as did many others wanting to overtake him. A lion from the adjoining forest that had entered his car in search of food, too, was lulled into sleep. Paramedics (wearing sound-proofed headphones) who were dropped in parachutes to the spot (the pile-up by then was so intense), were seen posing with the sleeping lion – some grinned, some placed their feet on its head as if it were their prize hunt and some flexed their muscles. The lion, it seems, ever since has taken a liking to attending classical music concerts.

Whoever had said music transcends all barriers must have done a somersault in their grave.

Moving beyond the realm of hearing, some rather inventive minds decide to baptise the back up alarm for its ultimate utility - by trying to bring in what the world essentially lacks: peace. A brigade decided to march through strife-torn areas armed with nothing but this device. A noted international newspaper beginning with ‘The’ and ending with ‘Times’ with a word rhyming with ‘cork’ in between reported as follows: “It was as if an army of pied pipers were present in flesh and blood. Call it hypnosis, magic or any other superhuman phenomena, but the mere sight of the back up alarm brigade walking past them was enough to turn the warring factions into gentle lambs as they dropped their ammunition to the ground; some forgot that they were brandishing grenades, and met with their fate instantly, but not before being graced by harmony. The others were in no time part of the congregation of peace. However, tragedy struck at the most inopportune moment as the entire group walked into a field rigged with landmines (which the militia had themselves installed) and were blown into pieces. The incident, however, shows that peace does have an outside chance to exist in this world.”

Sensing an opportunity, the traffic police have at busy junctions installed such gizmos to control traffic if it gets out of hand. Musicians and composers from around the world were invited to compose melodies - graded soothen, drowse, snooze and hibernate. Such was the success of the device that it was even nominated for “invention of the century” Nobel. However, a hitch existed. The panelists while reviewing the gizmo went into apnea, only to gain consciousness two years afterwards. So fascinated were al-Qaeda by this device that they are said to have done away with suicide bombers completely and invested a few billions in developing a custom version for its acts of terror. The latest cable leaks from er, Wikileaks claim that the military establishment in Pakistan is not all ears about this proposal.

This device has come in handy for coaches training rookie sportspersons — be it cricketers, footballers or athletes – to help them overcome the fear of massive crowds and instruments like the vuvuzela that were in full blare in the recent FIFA world cup. “By traning the sportspersons to listen to the audio output of such devices prior to entering the field,” an internationally-renowned cricket coach who preferred not to be named, but on second thoughts deemed it okay to be identified as the person responsible for mooting the multiple-captain theory for the IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders, said, “We are boosting the morale of the player. His mind will be as clear as Ricky Ponting with McGrath, Warne, Hayden and Gilchrist back in his team prior to a game against The Combined School Boys-XI and as aggressive as Sreesanth after having bowled a dot-ball following a slew of extras,” while slapping his forehead for dropping more than just a subtle hint.

However, not all is rosy about this technological breakthrough, as instances of its misuse are on the rise. Poachers who until recently had to wade through deep jungles and unfriendly habitat to capture wild animals could never have asked for more. Instant capture is the code-word in their fraternity as even an investment in simple items like bait was not needed. Just the dear old back up alarm with battery backup. As I write, WWF is said to have pressed for development of a variant of this device that produces notes that sound harsh and discordant to animals but are pleasing to the user and peddle it to the poaching mafia. It has, through discreet diplomatic channels, even requested the Queen of England to permit the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra to be a part in this endeavour of theirs...

And I would like to beg for forgiveness for having lied all along!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Nadunisi Naaigal: Curate's egg

Appeared in Expresso, the daily supplement of The New Indian Express, Bangalore on 21, February 2011

The one director in Kollywood who christens his movies in chaste Tamil, and focuses on themes that few self-proclaimed champions of that language would identify themselves with - Gowthaman Menon (it is a paradox that he is a Keralite) - is back at it again: a movie with a pure Tamil title, Nadunisi Naigal (dogs of the midnight), and an unorthodox movie subject, a psycho-thriller and child sexual abuse.

Nadunisi...builds suspense from the word go; the title credits open with a police inspector falling backwards in slow motion after being felled by a bullet on to a pool of rainwater in the dark. Three police personnel are shot dead and a girl goes missing from a hospital. A police inspector Vijay (Deva), starts investigating the crimes.

The scene later shifts to Samar, a boy who gets sexually abused by his father regularly (shades of Bharatirajaa’s Sighappu Rojakkal are impossible to miss), who, at times, even dreads entering his house. A neighbour, Meenakshi (Swapna Abraham), notices something amiss, and alerts the police, who while rescuing Samar, are forced to kill his father. Meenakshi, a single woman, decides to adopt Samar.

The narration is interspersed with footage of a man speaking to a camera, a la Robert De Niro in Righteous Kill, who describes his sexual exploits with attractive women, followed by their murders, in different mannerisms as he has been afflicted with multiple personality disorder. By the interval, chances are high that the viewer may break into a cold sweat, thanks to the gripping pace of the narrative, aided by the lack of songs.

However, a similar thread runs in Nadunisi… and two other recent movies that focused on the urban milieu – Yudham Sei and Easan: that of a meandering and predictable second half.

The portrayal of MPD in the movie has no novelty and seems to be a rehash of similar scenes from Anniyan and Chandramukhi.

On the portrayal of villains as sophisticated persons, Menon takes off from where he had left in his earlier movie, the Kamal Haasan-starrer Vettayadu Vilayadu. Swapna, Veera and Sameera Reddy (whose role deserves special mention) perform well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Low cost, who, China?

MADE IN CHINA. These three words have influenced the world as no other in recent times. With China being the low-cost manufacturing centre for a range of products as wide as the Great Wall of China, conglomerates as well as the countries backing them have sought to appease the world’s most populous country (at least for now). However, recent events in India conclusively lead us to the fact that China is only so in title with its south Asian neighbour emerging in covert as the actual low-cost destination for industries, despite a massive conspiracy being hatched to scuttle it’s rise.

And no, this is no repeat of Economist’s “China’s dragon v/s India’s tiger” features or a speculation on the cables inadvertently leaked by well...Wikileaks. If what you have read until now sounds incomprehensible, here is an instance of how India is going at great lengths to assert itself on the global manufacturing map and how the same is being portrayed in the most hideous manner by its media.

The 2G telecommunication spectrum scam, or simply the 2G scandal, is misinterpretation at its worst. At its heart we have our Hon former Union minister for Telecommunication, Andimuthu Raja, who dared to encourage newly-started telcos by auctioning to them spectrum at subsidised rates (after all, don’t we have government subsidies for food and fuel, to name a few?). How else can we give a fillip to a new entrant in the telco sector (brand new to be precise, if you take into account that some companies involved were formed hardly days prior to the auction of spectrum), which is dominated by giants like Bharti and Vodafone? Come to think of it, Raja was not just a politician; he was a statesman beyond compare due to his foresight, as he dared to challenge the low-cost philosophy of the Chinese. Since it was impossible for him to achieve this all by himself, he had to seek the help of a few, most notably his party mentor and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, who in his home state had sent the radical message of exerting cultural identity even at the cost of one’s life by distributing citizens colour TV sets and dhotis/saris during Pongal this year, when they did not have enough to eat (I only hope that the legendary Che in his grave learns a lesson or two from this great human being). Unfortunately such measures were termed populist by the opposition parties. It is a matter of concern that he is waging a losing battle there, but we choose to digress no more.

Such was the involvement of MK in India’s hitherto unprecedented telecom revolution that he is said to have personally examined the issue, and asked his daughter, the poetess parliamentarian Kanimozhi, to help our statesman. In fact, it now comes to light that a media house of the DMK, Kalaignar TV, too, was deeply involved in transforming our country by managing certain transactions involved. This means that generations of the future would find it hard to fathom that such a man ever walked on the earth (with due apologies to Albert Einstein!). Sadly, all these persons get in return are the accusation of having purloined some of the nation’s precious resources. If Manmohan Singh could be featured on Newsweek for his financial acumen, these two definitely need something more commemorative.

The S-band spectrum scandal (it hurts me whenever I am forced to use this word), where ISRO had reportedly offered exclusive spectrum to a private company at low prices, is another case in point. It is even more offending when the media instead of applauding the organisation for its gesture, speculates a fraud. Messrs Radhakrishnan and Co., in my eyes you have done the country a great service, and have no reason to feel ashamed. I am of the certain belief that China was tipped about these schemes and planted stories in our ever-salivating media houses in order to stymie their runaway successes.

The Adarsh Housing Society project, which again has the slur of ‘scandal’ attached to it, was one such revolutionary scheme, and to this day, has no parallel. Taking a leaf out of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals of social justice, certain ministers of the Maharashtra government permitted the construction of plush apartments in Mumbai, adjacent to the Arabian Sea, and their sale at throwaway prices, all with the intention of accommodating people who have never had the experience of residing in a posh locality. But, in the end, the chief minister who had approved the project was unceremoniously booted from office, as the media got wind of the low-cost tag implications of the project, which must have caused sleepless nights to many a Chinese intelligence and Communist Party official.

And the list does not end there. A similar thread runs in innumerable of its counterparts - from the Bofors scandal (truly, the greatest of its kind) to the fodder scam involving Laloo Yadav; from the Sukh Ram bribery scandal to Harshad Mehta’s Hawala stock-broking scam; from the Telgi stamp paper scam to the Commonwealth Games scandal.

As I type, I utter a silent prayer so that our nation may derive the strength to become the cynosure of the world for all the right reasons.

Jai Hind.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Yudham Sei: Well begun is only half done

Appeared in Expresso, the daily supplement of The New Indian Express, on 08 February, 2011

A girl gets kidnapped from a main road on a dark night. The next day, a package is found at a public place that contains severed body parts. The police and CBI are brought in immediately, when the scene shifts to an office where the head of the intelligence department is seen calling for someone. The call sounds out again, this time, teetering between anxiousness and anger, when we get to see JK’s (Cheran) face, whose back until then was alone is visible to the viewer, thereby patenting his own intro scene-for-the-hero). Thus begins Mysskin’s thriller saga, Yudham Sei.

An officer of the CB-CID, far from the stereotyped Ray-Ban toting, trigger-happy cop, JK decides to call it a day, when he is thrust with the task of finding the Hannibal Lecters behind the parcels. He is smart, assertive and is able to throw light on patterns of murders that confound top police officials. His sister has been kidnapped, and he feels that this could be related to this eerie happening. Another angle gets added to the mystery, a la Agatha Christie, when the case of the suicide of a doctor’s family has been closed abruptly, and comes to JK’s attention. Mysskin blends the sub-plots with one another that sustains the viewer’s interest to a certain level beyond which, it peters out and becomes a tad predictable. (Think Rajni’s Naan Sighappu Manidhan, Kamalhaasan’s Indiran Chandiran, or Sasikumar’s Easan.)

A taut first-half accompanied by a gripping music score are among Yudham...’s pluses. Gone is Cheran’s persona of Autograph and Thavamai Thavamirindhu, and in place we have a CID Shankar-like character. The fight sequence atop a foot-over bridge is largely reminiscent of that inside a hospital in Anjaadhe. Y G Mahendran, Lakshmi Parthasarathy, Jayaprakash and Dipa Shah perform ably in their roles.