Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is what you are watching actually a cartoon?

Disclaimer: What you are about to read may seem weird, but what the hell, I am hypothesising it to be true, so who knows...

Cartoons are basically meant for kids. The main reason elders prefer letting the kids watch them without their supervision is that they need not fret over the incidence of X-rated content in it – namely content that concerns that famous three-letter word or violence. I suggest that we re-examine this mindset of ours (as someone who has grown up watching the very cartoons that I am about to damn, I have mixed feelings as I type this.

Consider the following list: Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam, Tweety and Sylvester and Coyote and Road Runner. These are cartoons which we would definitely not squirm about before letting a toddler/child watch it. These cartoons are hilarious, have palatable themes; have caricatures that look cute (I am yet to come across a girl who hates Tweety). Tom and Jerry, for instance, was once even voted the most popular cartoon in history; its TV reruns stand testimony to its long lasting popularity. However, beneath all that humour, the sarcasm, the cuteness, the mind-boggling illustrations and their haunting soundtracks (viewers are likely to forget the characters but not the twirl of a guitar prior to the commencement of a Looney Tunes cartoon) is the underlying theme of violence, and if I may add, sadism.

Yes, you read it right. Cartoons, in my opinion, neatly package violence in a graded manner, almost undetectable, just as the nurse at the hospital injects a syringe in your vein to draw out a blood sample. The reason being killing a character is intrinsically woven into the plots (at least in the cartoons listed above), though it never happens. Tom seeks to either eliminate or make a meal out of Jerry; Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam brandish a gun all the time, wanting to shoot Bugs Bunny; ditto with Sylvester and Tweety and Coyote and Road Runner. Aren’t we indirectly implying that it is okay to kill a mouse or shoot a rabbit? Since humour is an effective masking agent, we do not worry about the content the kid may be watching. When an air gun misfires on Elmer Fudd, blackening his face, and Bugs Bunny standing beside him asks in a nonchalant manner, “Gee, what’s up, Doc?” we instinctively clap, laugh or at least smile; quoting a line from The Matrix, I’d say that we are hard-wired to do so. It is as if killing Jerry is Tom’s birthright, and in turn, harassing Tom being Butch’s pastime. Even the mythology-inspired cartoons running on Cartoon Network, Chota Bheem and Little Krishna, pay attention to the confrontations the characters have with demons. The superhero range of cartoons – The Mask, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, to name a few - bring with them, almost justifiably, violence. Haven’t we not come across reports of children dying while trying to imitate the antics of Shaktiman?

Those worrying about their children watching explicit content would hardly pay attention to what is packaged in a cartoon. I am no psychologist to suggest that children get excited violently and turn into a Conan the Barbarian after watching such cartoons; neither do I have any scientific studies to assert my claims. You can call me a pessimist, or someone who does not know how to enjoy watching cartoons, but of late I have been unable to put this stream of thought out of my mind.

Please feel free to comment on what is right or wrong with our cartoons, or whether I am getting paranoid.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Oodles of disappointment, frame-by-frame

Appeared in City Express, the daily supplement of The New Indian Express, on 25th April, 2011

It is not too often that we get to see a hero, instead of beating up a gang of bank robbers, pursues them in his bike, does whee
lies and dare-devil stunts, all to take their pictures and splash it in the media. It isn’t too often that the viewer gets lulled into expecting something different from such a movie. K V Anand’s latest directorial venture, Ko, sadly is all about this and much more.

Ashvin (Jiiva) is a photographer of Dina Anjal, a Tamil daily, whose prowess with the lens would make even a Peter Parker from Spiderman languish in shame. Renu (Karthika, daughter of yesteryear Tamil heroine, Radha), a reporter in the same daily, who did “responsible” coverage in Sri Lanka, is either content playing second-fiddle to Ashwin or pursuing the “scoops” he gives her after an analysis of his pictures, and by decree, falls in love with him.

Then there is the political minefield of the state, whose key protagonists are the biggies, the chief minister Yogi (Prakash Raj) and Aalavandhan (Kota Srinivasa Rao), and Vasanth (Ajmal), a young engineer. With elections looming, Ashvin and Renu get sucked into the vortex of political rallies and vendetta. Pattimandram Raja’s role looks like it has been lost out in editing. Songs have been inserted when they are hardly needed, for instance, just after the police finish investigating Renu’s house after a break-in. Despite this, Ko has an engaging first half; the newsroom is created with attention to detail, a la Shankar’s Mudhalvan. Anand as cameraman and not as the director has his signature etched all over the movie; the slo-mo fight sequences, as in The Matrix, are another of Ko’s pluses. Harris Jayaraj’s totemic music score has a Bombay Jayasree number.

Some questions remain. Vasanth’s classmates, who are contesting polls, pursue diverse professions (have I missed out on anything?). Do major newspapers conduct editorial meetings during the day? Can a reporter hold front-page of a newspaper from printing, that too, without the cognisance of the seniors?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mappillai: Son-in-law gets it all wrong

Appeared in Expresso, the daily supplement of The New Indian Express, on April 11, 2011

Rajnikanth’s tearaway 1989 hit, Mapillai (son-in-law), in which he cures his rich, tempestuous mother-in-law (Srividya) of her arrogance, is back in its new avatar. Ironically, the Superstar’s mapillai, Dhanush, reprises his father-in-law’s role in the original. The mathematical ‘onto’ relations, Srividya -> Manisha Koirala and Amala-> Hansika Motwani, describe the roles enacted by them.
Saravanan (Dhanush) is a devout person hailed by his neighbours as a role model to the youth, and marks his introduction with a song that begins with a remix of Madurai Somu’s Marudhamalai Maamaniye Muruga (clearly suggesting that he has failed to overcome the hangover from his earlier devotion-tinged movie, Seedan). Its blink-once-and-fall-in-love for Gayathri (Hansika), the daughter of Rajeshwari (Manisha Koirala), a construction firm owner, with Saravanan. The initial hesitations notwithstanding, Saravanan accepts her love and Rajeshwari (who gets introduced to the viewer in an ‘explosive’ manner, befitting an action hero), with the intention of bringing a docile son-in-law into the family, agrees to their match.
Director Suraaj then unleashes a series of flashbacks, in one of which, Rajeshwari is told that beneath Saravanan’s calm demeanour lies a mercurial, fearless attitude; the porukki (lout) who flaunts a beedi as a Clint Eastwood would a cheroot and would not hesitate to assault anyone. Its a deluge of punch dialogues and fight sequences from then on, as a head-on collision between Rajeshwari and Saravanan takes shape, with her attempts to cut him to size, unsurprisingly, biting the dust, engulfing the viewer in a feeling of déjà-vu by the interval itself.
Manisha Koirala returns to the silver screen after a long hiatus and does a fair job as expected of her; Hansika's presence is merely limited to providing eye-candy. The Dhanush-Manisha Koirala confrontation lacks the chutzpah that characterised the Rajnikanth-Srividya showdown in the original. Pattimandram Raja has been wasted in a role of little consequence. Malaysia Vasudevan’s hit number in the original, Ennoda raasi nalla raasi..., pops up in an insipid remix. This being a ‘mass-masala’ movie, it was surprising to see Vivek occupying centre-stage for the first ten minutes or so, until Dhanush’s first appearance.