Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rancho certainly didn’t get his basics right

A scene in the recent Bollywood blockbuster, three idiots, goes as follows: The principal of the college explains to an eager bunch of freshers how the Americans spent years of complex research and millions of dollars in developing a pen that can be used in a spacecraft, even in zero and sub gravity conditions and in extremes of temperatures. At that instant, Rancho (the character portrayed by Aamir Khan), almost innocently asks, “Sir, can’t we use a pencil instead?” when all the students burst into laughter. If anything, it only establishes the fact that he did not know about the perils of using a pencil in a spacecraft and the Space Pen.

PS: This scene could have been probably inspired by the age-old joke, which probably originated in the Cold war era and continues to circulate via e-mails and SMS’ worldwide, in which the US and Russia (or USSR), in the height of the space race, were developing a pen for use inside spacecraft and during one such meeting between scientists of both the countries, the Americans extolled about the features of a pen with complex functionalities that could write underwater, in zero gravity and other complex environments. When questioned, the bemused Russians replied, “That’s simple, we use a pencil.”

Is it really as simple as it is being made out to be? Did the Americans really miss out on anything?

Chew on these facts first

  • Pencils produce fine particles of lead dust (not to mention pieces of wood) – the perfect ingredient for a conflagration inside an oxygen-rich atmosphere such as a spacecraft
  • These fine particles can also clog certain vital parts of the complex machinery inside, turning the spacecraft into a veritable flying coffin (after the MiG aircraft, of course)

Now here’s a trivia bit that would astound even Derek O’ Brien...

Developed by an American researcher in private, who had to undergo a harrowing time before his invention was accepted by NASA (who were also researching on similar lines at that time), the Space Pen comprises pressurised nitrogen cartridges that ensure smooth writing by pumping out ink at a constant rate, no matter what the external atmosphere is.

John Fisher was the name of this whacky inventor.

Legend has it, as in any other fairytale, NASA, and later the Russians, were hooked on to this invention, and the Space Pen became associated with tales of invention folklore.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Kandean: I Came, I Saw, Got Disappointed

Appeared in City Express, the daily supplement of The New Indian Express, on 23 March, 2011

If ever there is a movie to exemplify that a comedy track alone will not suffice to cover the gaping holes in the logic of its screenplay, one need not look beyond Kandean (I saw). The movie abounds with scenes that lack coherence and could have done with a great deal of trimming.
Vasanth (Shantanu), the son of yesteryear film director K Bhagyaraj, is a playboy and a software engineer, whose sole aim is to fall in love with a girl and marry her. Vasanth’s grandfather, Chinnrasu Kounder (Vijayakumar), a village chieftain, (someone please tell him that the days when rural-centric movies like Naattamai or Natpukkaga were a rage are over) forces his grandson in vain into a marriage when Vasanth lies that he has a girlfriend back in
Chennai.
Narmada (Rashmi), a college student and the daughter of the police commissioner of Chennai (Ashish Vidyarthi, who follows a pattern in grimacing and mellowing), is affectionate to the disabled and helps the blind cross the roads. Vasanth, smitten by her looks, passes of as a blind person in order to meet her frequently. Expectantly, the two fall in love.
Director Mugil gets afflicted with deja - when he gives us a glimpse into the movie’s ending inside fifteen minutes in the scene when Vasanth in a temple visualises getting married to Narmada. With the two falling in love even before the interval, the second half is about scenes creating an emotional ebb, leading to a burst of euphoria. The problem is that some of them are either outlandish or hopelessly predictable.
Scenes that seem to be disguised references to K Bhagyaraj’s watershed movie, Chinna Veedu – the bike with the side compartment, and THAT scene where Vasanth averts his glance when Narmada undresses – stand testimony to the fact that imitation is the best form of flattery. Santhanam as Sami, Vasanth’s friend, is entrusted with the near impossible task of making the movie watchable and enlivens proceedings with a humorous comedy track, similar to what veteran comedian Koundamani once did. Music by newcomer Ebenezer comprises peppy songs that belie his experience.
In short, a movie that you would pay to avoid!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

When bonhomie strikes Tamil Nadu's politicos...

In a move that could confound pollsters and analysts, the principal national political parties of the nation — BJP and Congress — have decided to come together in a state where their prospects have never been anything to gloat about, Tamil Nadu. The partnership, it is said, has been forged to take everyone by surprise. BJP state unit president L Ganesan addressed reporters in Chennai recently, "According to a secret public opinion poll, confidential even to its respondents, we realised that the public were tired of  the bickering between the Congress and us. Hence, this move, in addition to leading Tamil Nadu to the road of development, will offer some variety to the aam-aadmi, on whom to vote for."

Former state Congress chief K V Thangkabalu, however, remained tight-lipped. "The decision rests entirely with Sonia Gandhi madam," he said, conceding that her son Rahul expressed interest over the partnership, as his previous attempts at improving the Congress' tally in the state have floundered. However, insiders from the two parties, whose ideologies are as similar as American football is to soccer, stress on the condition of anonymity that the utter exasperation of being at the mercy of the two Dravidian parties of the state, the M Karunaninidhi-led DMK and Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK, was the catalyst as well as the substrate for the new development. Although the two parties will maintain a cordial relationship in the land of Tiruvalluvar, communiques from their respective headquarters asserted that their ideologies and policies on other issues are not expected to change. For instance, the Congress will maintain that it has nothing to do with a host of corruption scandals, ranging from the Commonwealth Games irregularities and the infamous 2G scandal, with its counterpart countering that its administration in Karnataka has been absolutely free of corruption.

"We understand that any relationship will have a give and a take; hence we will not criticise each other on our road ahead in Tamil Nadu," addressed spokespersons of AICC and BJP, Abhishek Singhvi and Ravi Shanker Prasad respectively, at a joint press meet at the Chepauk Press Club in Chennai. They elucidated that the name of the new party so formed will be Con-JP as the other name they had decided upon, B-ress, sounded too crass.

A party insider, who did not wish to be identified added that post the press meet, a BJP functionary  remarked that the river Cooum continues to raise a stink because the Congress formed the state's first government, leading to the rebuke that, "If the stink is such despite the BJP unable to win even a single seat here, god forbid what would happen if they ever come to power."

Meanwhile, standing testimony to the phrase "My enemy's enemy is my friend", the DMK and AIADMK  have taken a leaf out of their national counterparts, and will ally with one another, a decision which is expected to follow with the announcement of the next round of populist sops to the masses.

Jayalalithaa, or Amma to her followers, reportedly took advantage of the lean traffic on the roads leading to Gopalapuram, where Karunanidhi resides, and held parleys with him.

When this reporter got wind of the development and made it to the venue, he was warded off by security personnel. The actress-turned politician and her confidante, Sasikala Natarajan, however, were caught in a traffic jam, where she, in a tete-a-tete with this reporter, said: "It is true that I met my one-time bete-noire  and discussed with him the union of the AIADMK and DMK. Poor Karu, the arrest of his poetess daughter, Kanimozhi, has saddened him a lot. I decided that I would stand by him in his hour of crisis and asked whether he would need a cell for himself, near the one his daughter is housed in," to which she added that the Kalaignar clasped her hands and wept loudly, while managing to quote a verse or two from the Tirukkural. She averred that such a move would have met with approval from Annadurai or former TN CM M G Ramachandran, her political guru.

Turning a tad serious, the chief minister remarked, "Who are these bl*&%# national parties to dictate terms to us? Do they have any sense of history about our state? Nothing will come out of this union between two also-rans," she said, in a snide reference to Con-JP. "Between us," Jayalalithaa said, referring to herself and the Kalaignar, "many a harsh exchange has been traded, to which you people devote exclusive coverage; however, it is proper that we learn to forgive and forget, and work for a better Tamil Nadu and secure the Dravidian ideology."

Meanwhile, Sasikala, who was sitting silent all the while, remarked sardonically, "We talk about the late MGR, but are dependent on the Karuppu MGR (dark MGR, alluding to Vijayakanth, the head of DMDK). To this, J coldly remarked, "Watch your tongue, I could still have you lodged at a sub-jail in Mannargudi," she said, while ordering the chaffeur to increase the volume of her stereo player inside, which belted out the hit number Naan Aanaiyittal, from the late MGR's yesteryear hit, Ungal Veetu Pillai.

Later in the evening, the CM convened a meet at Fort St George, which included an assemblage of political leaders from the two parties, including the Marans, Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi, M K Alagiri and M K Stalin. "Karunanidhi is my avowed enemy. I will not stop until I vanquish him from the face of the earth," Jayalalithaa began reading out, when murmurs grew from within the audience and on stage. A trembling AIADMK functionary came on to the dais, prostrated before the chief minster and said something to her in a hushed voice, of which the words "wrong speech" stood out. The CM slapped him across his face immediately, in full media glare. "Muttal (dunce)," she muttered under her breath, before leaving the stage hastily.

A source in the AIADMK confirmed that the functionary was bundled off to a Sri Lankan refugee camp in Rameswaram.

The now principal opposition party in the state, the DMDK headed by Vijayakanth, after realising that it has been ditched by the two newly-formed political fronts, decided to outdo them in finding a new ally. Vijayakanth is reportedly said to have sent for actor Vadivelu, who had once launched a vituperative attack against him during the electoral campaign, and is even rumoured to have offered him a plum posting in the party's hierarchy.

Commentators, meanwhile, were having a field day. From jeers to satire, the development was lampooned from all quarters. The political developments in the state are yet to sink in, said noted political commentator and editor of Tughlak magazine, Cho Ramasamy. "I wish I had made my political satire, Muhammad Bin Tughlak, today, instead of forty-odd years ago."

Monday, May 16, 2011

What happens when a journalist dissects a love story?

If marriages are made in heaven, then the events preceding it must definitely be made in Kollywood’s studios, whose insistence on replicating the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” on screen is so strong that anything contrary has been (and will) strongly be looked down upon. As Paulo Coelho would have said, the entire universe would have conspired to ensure that the lead pair, be it the newcomer or the reigning star, stand united, no matter how adverse situations may turn out to be. P Vasu’s Chinna Thambi and Mani Ratnam’s Roja are movies that instantly come to my mind when I think of this. Did not the actor Amitabh Bachchan once say that he is intent on providing entertainment to the common man who is burdened with the complexities of life? Which is why the ending in Gowtham Menon’s not-so-recent movie, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (Will you cross the stars for me), where the lead pair – Silambarasan and Trisha – despite falling in love, decide to part ways, intrigues me to no end.

Not that Indian movies are averse to what the hoi-polloi of the audience would describe as a different, unconventional or offbeat movie. We have Devdas, where the hero drowns himself in alcohol when he is unable to come to the fact that his sweetheart has married someone else, despite another woman pining for him. Heck, even its modern-day adaptation, Dev-D, had a blistering run at the BO, coining terms such as ‘emotional atyaachaar’ along the way. As our discussion returns to Kodambakkam, one firmly needs to bear in mind that save for some of Balachander’s flicks, in which the norm was the hero and heroine are not meant to live together (Cases in point Apoorva Raagangal, where the heroine marries the hero’s father in a gush of revenge, and Avargal, where three persons – the ex husband, the former and the incumbent lover – pine for the same lady), it was an injunction laid down literally from heaven that the the lead pair greet the audience with garlands around their necks when the words “Shubham” or “Vanakkam”, which signify the end of the movie, are shown to us.

First the facts. Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (Ye Maaya Chesave in Telugu) is about the tumultous love between its lead pair, Karthik (Silambarasan) and Jessie (Trisha). Religion, as expected, becomes a contentious issue, as Jessie is torn between her lover and her father, who strictly disapproves of the union. Jessie’s parents pressurise her to get married at a time when Karthik’s cinematic career is on an upswing, when she decides to cut off all contact with him. A rendezvous takes place between the two much later, when the director reveals to us in a graded manner that Jessie is married to the boy of her father’s choice, and Karthik’s debut movie is about their jilted love sans the suffering.

In software terminology, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (VV from now on), in my opinion, is Minnale (RHTDM in Hindi) v2.0, the reasons for which I will be stating below. Karthik is a mechanical engineer struggling to make it big in films as a director; Rajesh (Madhavan) from Minnale, too, is a mechanical engineer; the two are weak in academics. Both love Christian women who are employed in MNCs – Reena Joseph (Reema Sen) of Minnale is an employee at Ford, while Jessie (Trisha) is a software architect at Polaris Systems; both the movies have a scene inside the altar of a church, where the two women refuse to get married, that too when the pastor asks them for their consent, prior to the exchanging of the rings. Both suffer contrasting changes of heart, with Reena initally hating her lover, only to unite with him later, and Jessie doing the converse (when represented diagrammatically, their emotions may depict a sinusoidal wave). In fact, Minnale was VV minus the “realistic” ending: Karthik and Rajesh, who get spurned despite their repeated overtures, decide to focus on their respective careers.

The undulating trajectory of Jessie’s emotions towards her love, is, in my opinion, unique to VV. She loves Karthik, allows him to kiss her inside a train, but later questions him angrily for having the gumption to do so. She later suffers a change of heart, asks him to take her to a movie, but afterwards suggests that they be friends. When her father in a fit of desperation asks whether she has anyone else in her heart at the church altar when she refuses to get married, she replies whether he would accept such a person. However, when Karthik comes to meet her in the midst of a filming schedule, she refuses to speak to him. (Sudha Murthy prior to her marriage with Infosys founder Narayana Murthy had once written that she was torn between her father and her to-be husband, when the latter did not create a good impression about himself during their first meeting. Am I seeing any similarities?) Save for the odd movie or two (see above), Indian movie heroines:

  • Are usually the villain’s daughter
  • Fall head-over-heels in love with the hero in a flash, or
  • Get drawn to the hero at an intensity much greater than that she would have hated him
  • Are clad in bikinis/two-piece during courtship and sarees/churidars post her marriage to the hero

Therefore, the portrayal of Jessie as intelligent, suave and pragmatic, even to the extent of sacrificing her love, comes as a gale of fresh air to the discerning viewer.

Unfulfilled love has probably been a fetish with Menon. The damsel in distress in Kakkha Kakkha (Jyothika) dies an ignominous death; the director probably offered us an upgrade in Vettayadu Vilayadu, with the heroine (Jyothika again) surviving the villain’s malevolent attempts to murder her.

The beauty of the pristine backwaters of Alappuzha captured on camera, as if in an Incredible India video, apart, there were certain aspects in the movie that interested me. The voiceovers dripping with humour, during the opening scene and the scenes where Jessie walks off in a huff after Karthik says what they are experiencing is not friendship but love, and when Jessie’s brother tries to bully him, evoke a smile. And what’s it with the lead characters in Menon’s movies converting expressions of love into style statements? The statement, “I wanna make love to you,” which Karhik says in VV, and Maya (Jyothika) in Kaakha Kaakha, to their respective lovers, look like they have been inserted to appease the A-class audience. The pyramid-like structured dialogues, running from the apex to the base, akin to that in a Mani Ratnam movie, lend an heightened feel of anticipation. Jessie terming Karthik’s first movie, named after her, as feel-good, when their romance failed to materialise smacks of irony (I am reminded of the multiple ending short stories of Jeffrey Archer). The director, who makes an K S Ravikumar-like appearance in all his movies, fails to turn up in VV. Observe and you would find that the video clip which director K S Ravikumar is shown editing is actually that of Menon’s then upcoming movie, Nadunisi Naaigal.

Last but not the least, does the director feel the Telugu-speaking audience are frail hearted not to accept rejection? The endings in his Telugu remakes seem to suggest so. Kaakha Kaakha ends with Maya dying due to a bullet wound; the final scene in its Telugu remake, Gharshana, shows her (Asin) recuperating; Jessie in the closing scene of VV advises Karthik to fall in love with another girl and get married; however, in Ye Maaya Chesave, they are shown to have united. This is one question that I would love to confront the director with if I were to ever meet him.

Also, kindly proffer your thoughts on the movie...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Movie on Horsepower

Director Suseendiran, who marks a return to the rural milieu with Azhagarsaamiyin Kudhirai (Azhagarsami’s horse) after Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu, I suspect, may have paid a silent tribute to a filmmaker who revelled in bucolic themes, Bharathiraja.

The portrayal of the rural setting in the movie (based on a short story authored by writer Bhaskar Sakthi) is largely reminiscent of that in movies such as Pathinaaru Vayathinile or Kizhakke Pogum Rayil. Two lovers when on a secret outing to the town watch, of all movies, Alaigal Oyvathillai; a village decides to conduct a temple fair in order to appease the rain god; women burst into lyrics at the snap of a finger. However, my favourite scene was where a sleeping stray dog perks up, rather expectantly, when the town crier announces the conduction of a village fair.

The wooden horse of the village deity, Azhagarsaami, goes missing on the eve of the temple fair; as if in a metaphor, a person by name Azhagarsaami (Appukutty), too, loses his horse, which strays in the village, with its residents attributing it to divine intervention. Azhagarsaami arrives at the village one day and finds his horse, only to be informed that it now belongs to the village temple. The horse was his ticket to marriage with a fair maiden (Saranya); his to-be father-in-law then tells him he would wait only till the next full-moon. What happens next is meant to be seen.

The gradual transformation in the emotions of the villagers as preparations for the temple fair get underway has been etched carefully. The director must be thanked for reminding us that love can be professed sans SMS/e-mail/chat, in what can be termed a throwback to the “good-old days” of Tamil cinema. Shades of Aamir Khan’s Lagaan (when the entire village prays for rain) are hard to miss.

With a soulful soundtrack, Ilayaraja proves that age has still not robbed him of his talent. You feel it the moment when you listen to the track that accompanies the title credits, which does not carry details about the cast.