Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Oath.... From Karnataka to Kailasa!

Part 1: In the office of the Karnataka CM...

A wizened man was scanning the day’s newspapers, character by character, pixel by pixel, hoping to find a positive reference in a news article, leave alone stumbling upon a glowing reader’s comment. Frustrated, he threw away the bunch of newspapers – English, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam dailies.

“Perhaps we must subscribe to the ideology of paid news,” he remarked. “At least then I can get to see something positive published about me.”

His personal secretary, to whom he spoke, reflected, “Perhaps, we could think of positive governance,” but looked up in a startle, when he realised that his official was glaring at him, perhaps reading his thoughts. “I agree with you entirely, sir. We could speak to the senior editors of some dailies and probably get them on our payroll,” he said half-heartedly.

“Don’t you think they may go public on any such overture of ours?”

“Why not,” blurted the secretary, but was quick enough to correct himself when he noticed the dour look on his boss turning into a frown. “I mean, why would they?”

“The Opposition parties are always sensing an opportunity to strike at me. Is it my fault that I became the CM?” he asked in a tone intended to create drama, as he looked upwards, adjusted his shirt collar and pen inside the pocket in front of the looking glass, and gave a satisfactory smile. He then reminded himself to glance in a statesman-like manner, which he developed ever since watched a few documentaries on Churchill, Hitler and Mussolini. “The people’s mandate, after all, rests with me.”

He continued, “Every time an Opposition leader releases incriminating documents against me, I have relied on my secretary to raise some muck against such people. This way, I get to prove my innocence.” “However,” he said, as he drew in some breath, “don’t you think we are disproving that saying ‘you can fool some of the some of the time, all of the people some of the time; but not all of the people all of the time’ which was said by some European?”

“Really?” and “Former US President Abraham Lincoln,” were the secretary’s monosyllabic answers.

“Aah, yes, Lincoln. Pity he did not belong to our era and region. Had he been in our party, we would have vanquished the Opposition.”

“Yes, sir,” the secretary replied sardonically, rolling his eyes.

“Which is why, I have come up with a stratagem. I will no longer go to the public on the allegations levelled against me. I will now go to God. Even Lincoln had excluded God from that saying,” he said, as he shrieked in a burst of artificial laughter; his secretary followed suit, grimacing.

The leader then grew serious and started thinking aloud. He said: “Convene a meeting of top party officials. And find out which temple in Karnataka is most suitable for my divine rendezvous. As for publicity, we may have to advertise in the newspapers, challenging an Opposition leader to the temple.”

“Yes, sir,” he replied meekly. He knew where this conversation would end. “Do you want me to compose the content for the advertisement?”

“That will not be necessary. Take the first few paragraphs of the speech readied for the farmer budget; the next para from the speech the day after my trust vote nearly fell through; and the next...” his voice trailed off as he counted with his fingers, “three paragraphs from the speech prepared the day after my Cabinet colleagues attempted dislodging me. Make a mention about safeguarding public interest at all costs. Do you understand?”

“Without a shred of doubt, sir.”

“I somewhat feel the Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwar temple will be suitable for the challenge....” the official seemed to be muttering as he walked out of the room.

Part 2: Inside the office of an Opposition party, a day after the advertisement appears in the papers...

“This shameless CM is at it again, daddy,” said the party’s state leader. He hurried into his father’s room, clutching the day’s papers.

“What are you talking about, son,” said the father, as he tried to stand up, but tripped over his walking stick. “B*@% magane,” he mouthed a profanity in Kannada.

Appa, Ee ad nodi,” he said, as thrusted the papers into his father’s face.

Goobey, can’t you see I am trying to stand up. Help me first.” He then peered into the newspapers, digesting its contents. “Hmmm... Seems our friend is prepared for a showdown.”

“Shall I release another set of documents containing details of his shady deals to the press?”

“Save it for another occasion. Don’t forget that he was once your deputy. He may possess inside information about us.”

“How about producing a movie about him that depicts him in poor light?”

Thooninna... You know, you should have remained a film distributor in Hassan itself. When am I ever going to install you as the CM? Besides, a Cabinet minister of his has the first entrant advantage in this regard. Do you want to be labelled a copycat, of all things?”

Illa, Appa,” his son said obediently. “But how can I keep quiet, now that he has thrown the gauntlet at me?”

“It’s simple,” the veteran replied as he gripped his walking stick firmly. “All we need to do is issue a counter-clarification. That we have never had a hand in corruption and that we are ready to accept the challenge.”

“Are you really sure about that?” enquired the son, a weird expression clouding his rotund face.

“About what?”

“About us not having a hand in corruption...”

Ninage budhi ilva [Don’t you have any sense]? When are you ever going to tell apart a rhetorical statement from balderdash?” He pointed to the advertisement. “Do you think there is an element of truth in this?”

His son stared at the floor; a sulk wearing his face. He wanted this one-sided conversation to get over as soon as possible. His woes were compounded by the fact that his party symbol began reminding him of his second wife, with whom he suddenly wanted to be with. Eega naanu yenu maadu beku [What do I have to do now],” he said desperately.

His father said softly, “Accept the challenge and be your brash self. All you need to do is refute every single allegation of his and project him as the most heinous criminal ever to have become CM, be it in Dharmasthala or Varanasi. Is that too much to ask of you?”

“Ok,” he said, appearing mollified.


Part 3: Meanwhile, miles and miles away in heaven....

“For what are you known as the creator in Hindu mythology? Manufacturing defects ought to be consigned to only Chinese large-scale factories, not heaven. Do you hear me?”

“I do, o protector of the Hindu trinity. I assume you are referring to the oath episode of Dharmasthala?”

“You bet I am. Of late, I am told, this trend is picking up in heaven as well. Our demi-gods now resort to an oath in front of an idol or portrait of ours, stating that they have not made any mistake, whenever they have been accused of committing one.”

“’Tis the truth, indeed. Such episodes are leading people to lose faith in us. My consort rues that atheism, once confined to the earth alone, is now picking up in our abodes as well.”

“Don’t you think that the two of us are equally responsible for the current state of affairs?”

The gods exchange a cursory glance.

“In the name of Lord Shiva, we swear that we have no role in what is going wrong all around!”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brilliance Tempered With Flashes of Insipidity

You can read this review also at:

Raw depiction of human emotions have been the USP of Bala's movies. The Aghori sadhu in Naan Kadavul, the son of an undertaker in the national award-winning movie Pithamagan, or the jilted lover in Sethu stand out for their oddities, influencing movie and satire makers like no other. So, it is confounding that Avan Ivan, the latest movie from his stable, is surprisingly stereotypical.

Kumbidaren Saamy (Arya) and Walter Vanangamudi (Vishal) are village louts who are half-brothers. Walter, an aspiring actor, has a squint, cross-dresses and even dances as a woman (he boasts that when dressed as a woman, even Cleopatra would emerge from her grave and kiss him); Saamy is an expert at picking locks. A local magistrate summons him to his house to open his ancient safe, the key for which he has misplaced. Although animosity runs high between the two, Saamy is afraid to confront Walter directly. Their mothers, Jayaprabha and Ambika (she sports a beedi constantly, and asks Walter to save some booze for her), respectively, quarrel often.

The love interests of the two brothers arrive in the form of Baby (Janani Iyer), a police constable, and Thenmozhi (Madhu Shalini), a tutorial college student desperate to clear her exams. Sequences where Walter and Saamy court their lovers are funny, but lack hilarity (After all, humour was key even in Bala's earlier 'serious' movies). Why do the girls love them? We never know.

What hurts Avan... the most is its weak plot in the latter half, which gets redeemed to an extent by its supporting cast. The inspector of the village who prays for a promotion and Saamy's plump friend who comes up with wisecracks leave the viewer in splits. G M Kumar puts in in a stellar performance as Highness, a zamindar who was cheated in a property dispute. The villain (RK) runs an illegal slaughterhouse and gets into a confrontation with Highness, only to murder him. The brief flashbacks of fight sequences towards the end are simply superb.

Some dialogues drip with sarcasm, most of which have been reserved for Arya ("Actress Trisha is for you only," he remarks to Walter after seeing his acting prowess). Bala briefly flirts with macabre in a cliched second half, and the element of surprise, so dominant in his earlier ventures, is surprisingly muted.

The review was featured in City Express, the daily supplement of the New Indian Express on June 19, 2011.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Dharmic Gangster Movie!

"Whatever is needed is Dharma," or so goes a quote attributed to the philosopher Chanakya prior to the start of Thiagarajan Kumararaja's debut movie, Aaranya Kaandam (the forest chapter). The movie, which is part of Kollywood's new-found passion for off-beat themes, has certainly satisfied its cinematic 'dharma' by looking beyond the traditional masala fare, and still produce a gripping entertainer.

A gangster flick, Aaranya... steers clear of the good v/s bad kind of characterisation, with virtually every character painted in hues of greya departure from the Robin Hood/vigilante-themed movies. Singaperumal (Jackie Shroff), a dreaded gangster, beats up his concubine Subbu (Yasmin Ponnappa) while unable to get it up during intercourse, but makes up for it by handing money to Sappai (Ravi Krishna), his effeminate assistant, asking him to purchase something for her. A kid, Kodukapuli (Master Vasanth), helps his drunkard dad perform his daily ablutions, but steals from a neighbour.

As for the story, Singaperumal and Gajendran (Rambo Rajkumar), who in his attire could put even a Bappi Lahiri to shame, are rival ganglords who do not see eye-to-eye. Singaperumal’s henchman Pasupathy (Sampath) senses a business deal for the gang, which gets struck down by his boss. All of a sudden, everyone starts baying for Pasupathy’s blood. Does he have a solution?

There is never a dull moment in either half of Aaranya..., thanks to the absence of songs and taut editing. Expletives form an integral part of the movie's dialogues, and have been, unsurprisingly, blanked out. Yuvan Shankar Raja seems to have taken refuge in his father Ilayaraja's yesteryear compositions, which he uses as part of the background score. Watch out for the ending, almost a la Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. This must perhaps be the first Tamil (if not, Indian) gangster movie not to feature an item-number. Gory sequences, in slow motion for added effect, are present throughout the movie.

Shroff, attired in a veshti speaks in halting Tamil, in a measured, gruff tone (he could have been acting in a Mani Ratnam movie!); Sampath fits the bill as a rowdy in a daze (he had a similar role to enact in Venkat Prabhu's Saroja); Ravi Krishna and Yasmin Ponnappa are Aaranya...'s surprise package for the characters that they portray.