Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mankatha: Kollywood’s Usual Suspects

This review can also be read at: http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/news/kollywood%E2%80%99s-usual-suspects/309554.html

Multi-starrer Tamil movies are a rarity. Even rarer are movies comprising ‘solo’ heroes pitted against each other. Combine this factor with the backdrop of IPL, the Mumbai mafia, glamour and action, and you have Mankatha (U/A), an entertainer that can be fairly approximated between Hollywood’s Usual Suspects and the director’s earlier venture, Saroja.

Vinayak Mahadev (Ajith, was the name intended to be an obeisance to the lord on the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi?) is a suspended police officer residing in Mumbai. He dates Sanjana (Trisha), the daughter of Arumugam Chettiar (Jayaprakash), a smuggler. Vinayak has secret flings with women, unknown to Sanjana, and makes no bones about having crossed 40 years of age. Chettiar makes arrangements to launder `500 crore into the nation, which a gang led by his henchman (Vaibhav), and including a police inspector (Ganesh Kakumanu) and an IIT graduate (Premji Amaren) plot to rob.

Meanwhile, an investigation team led by Prithviraj Kumar (Arjun Sarja) turns the heat on the mafia-bookie nexus. Following a hilarious turn of events, Vinayak bumps into the gang, rather innocently, and becomes one of them. A cat and mouse game follows, with the gang, Chettiar and the police as its players.

The occasional punch dialogues apart, the director must be congratulated for packaging a surprise quotient in Mankatha and not let it morph into a one-for-the-fans movie. The movie, which spans Mumbai’s underbelly of Dharavi and its glitzy nightclubs, rarely slackens in pace, save for a brief period after the interval. Arjun gets a refreshing role, more so after he was becoming an eyesore as hero of late. The heated exchange between Vinayak and Prithviraj, during which the former addresses the latter as ‘Action King’, lends drama to the proceedings. Lakshmi Rai flits through the movie in a role that is as skimpy as her costumes; even Trisha’s character is limited.

Yuvan Shankar Raja continues with his trend of adopting his father Ilayaraja’s hits for the music score; the song Open the bottle... resembles the hit number Saroja Saman Nikalo... in Chennai 600028.

Appeared in City Express, the daily supplement of the New Indian Express, on September 1, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Broadband and the Burst of Bangalore’s Browsing Bubble

Bangaloreans may not have noticed it, but net cafes, or internet browsing centres, are to India’s IT capital as the tiger is to a cell phone service provider – a twist in the catchphrase that featured in its recent advertisements makes for an apt description; few such centres are in vogue, save them. From the days of obsession, similar to what the Dutch had for tulips, to the near disillusionment of browsing centres, the IT capital has had its own Roman Empire; the market scenario prior to the entry of broadband internet can be approximated to the reign of Julius Caesar.

Obsession? That too with the internet? Anybody growing up in the late 90s would extoll at length on the city’s then new-found obsession. For, inviting wide stares and fascinated looks on anything remotely associated to the internet – then in its infancy in the nation – be it on a TV channel, tabloid, newspaper, magazine, or heck, even a porno mag, was not unusual. Understandably, Sabeer Bhatia, the creator of Hotmail, was the then toast of the nation; so was Tendulkar who could score centuries at will, but this guy could strike a deal with the very Bill Gates, so there!

From the cryptic telegrams and long distance trunk calls (aka the phone calls with the not so gentle reminders every three minutes) of the previous century, to today’s iWhatnots, it must be agreed that technology has served as a reminder that how we communicate is as important, if not more, than what we communicate. The very idea of switching on a desktop and a dial-up internet connection (I would not be surprised if the Oxford English dictionary decides to render such terms redundant) to check for one’s mail or to chat sounded sophisticated; a browsing centre was the obvious destination if one was not wired to the net at home. Having a mail id meant boosting one’s ‘cool’ factor into the stratosphere. Checking mail for forwards, chain mail, or updates from service providers in our 10 MB inboxes (yes, you read it right) was a ritual in itself. Online chat rooms were where we morphed into the proverbial Alice in Wonderland, opening up to many an anonymous person, who could be a stone’s throw away, but posing to be from another galaxy. Exhibiting ignorance to any of these meant inviting rude stares, which one would normally make after inserting his/her finger into an electric socket.

Movies like You’ve got mail were on the top of everyone’s must-watch lists. Film songs including a word or two on email, chat or internet were instant chart busters and merited place in walkman tapes (CDs were cost prohibitive then). Had ABBA been formed twenty years later, their hit single Ring Ring, Why Don’t You Give Me A Call... would have instead gone as Ping Ping, Why Don’t You Send Me A Mail...

The cafe (a term which should be nominated for the biggest misnomer of sorts) had a person maintaining a log book, who could have been straight out of the License-raj era. Connection speed, it seemed, was never a factor to be considered. A ‘sophisticated’ browsing centre that I knew which also had air-conditioning, printers, scanners and fax machines was named ‘the Web Crawler’. Yet, lengthy queues were never unusual. Imagine a hundred customers waiting before you inside a crowded hairdresser’s saloon on a Sunday morning. Following the principles of demand and supply to the-T were these cafes, where hourly browsing rates once even touched 30-40 bucks, with rate slabs that would make our income tax scales look like child’s play. Teens constrained by pocket money limits had to keep more than just an eye on the clock, lest they face parental sanctions. Hapless users were charged higher rates for emerging even a few minutes late. Customers cried, cajoled, protested and even shouted, but the clerk remained unmoved, forcing the customer to part with extra money.

It was as if technology was waiting to play the biggest prank on such heartless lords.

True to word, along came broadband internet, pulling down browsing charges to the depths of the deepest of oceans with it. Net addicts never had it better as these connections also came with better download limits, in addition to the cheap browsing rates. Soon, cafe owners could have mistaken their centres to be in the Sahara or Siberia, as their milling crowds dwindled. They had to diversify or perish, xerox (photocopying) machines, laser jets, dedicated phones for long and short-distance calls started replacing the once prized assets of the cafes, the desktops. Browsing charges dropped. I mean DROPPED. For the same amount that people once paid for browsing for a few hours, they could now practically reside inside the cafe – only people were no longer interested.

Nero could have been fiddling around in a corner of the city as the empire crumbled – bit by bit.

So if you come across a shop that displays the board “Indian Rupee symbol.svg10 for one hour net/browsing/chat”, remember that these are vestiges of what was once a glorious, pompous empire.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sir Vidia and a lesson for our politicos

Not too long ago, Sir V S Naipaul stirred a hornet’s nest in the literary world and the media in particular with his sexist remark that women writers “were different” and “can never be a match to him”. The works of Jane Austen, according to the Nobel laureate, were “too sentimental”, and that this was because women are never the masters of the house.

That his comments generated hot air can be conveniently termed as the understatement of the century. Whether he chose to do so to invite attention –which also meant inviting a fierce backlash from a wide range of personalities, including his former editor, Diana Athill – or was he in his right frame of mind while making the remarks are the stuff of debates, not this blogpost. I have not read his works and do not know him personally; I am of the firm opinion that his statements were definitely reprehensible, and not keeping in with someone of his stature. So there. But we digress.

However, one thing’s for certain. That he chose to remain unfazed and stand by his views. Even in the face of vehement criticism. Even when intellectuals from around the world, and the West in particular, raised an uproar. Some called him senile, others went a step ahead, called him a ‘misogynist prick’; his remarks are laughable, termed a few; his works were withdrawn from international events; he withdrew from addressing the European Writers’ Parliament. One can speculate that he may not have invited the same outrage had he made the comments in a South Asian or South-East Asian nation, where women as a rule do not share equal rights with men and feminism remains only on paper. One can hypothesise that the Taliban would have lauded him for what the world views as a faux-pas, given that the comment strikes a chord with their ideology. However, it must be noted that the tsunami of backlash that emerged against Sir Vidia could not force him to retract his statement, or even issue an apology.

Contrast this with how India’s leading politicians behave. Former telecommunication minister A Raja first goes on record, stating that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and current Home Minister P Chidambaram were involved in the 2G Spectrum scandal, only to state at a later date that he did not want to “implicate” the PM. Our Minister for External Affairs, S M Krishna, while during his first visit to the UN reads the speech meant for his Portuguese counterpart, but later counters that “there was nothing wrong”. The media-sound byte darling politician of India, Digvijay Singh, seems to have it in his blood to utter something one day and retract it soon, or offer his favourite excuse, “I was misquoted” – be it in his comments on RSS, his genuflection towards Rahul Gandhi or his criticism of the Lokpal Bill or former Karnataka Lokayukta N Santosh Hegde. Probably everyone out there is a dunderhead at English.

From the Bhagyalakshmi scheme to the Posco steel plant proposal and his eventual resignation, u-turns were, and probably will be, the characteristic of the only Indian politician who deserves the Nobel Prize (at least according to him), former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa. And Shashi Tharoor, who was once tipped to be the UN secretary general, went on air, clarifying on Saudi Arabia’s role as interlocutor (whatever that word meant) in the Indo-Pak peace process. Go on record, say anything you want, the clarification can wait, seems to be the motto of our esteemed politicians.

Unfortunately, this list is only indicative; from Farooq Abdullah to M Karunanidhi, from Mayawati to Sharad Pawar, conviction on the right issues is a trait that is virtually absent in our nation’s leadership. We are an apology of a nation. With such persons being the nation’s face abroad, it should not be too difficult to figure out why we are not taken seriously in the international arena. China’s ‘string of pearls’, India’s ever-pending consensus on Kashmir, the 1-2-3 nuclear agreement and the nuclear liability bill, delays (or refusal?) in extraditions of David Headley and Kim Davy, to name a few, are some of the direct fall outs of the phenomenon mentioned above.

It was left to India's
former ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, to describe our nation's politicians as 'headless chickens', a statement that he was forced to retract.

Our netas could learn from Sir Vidia on how to stand by one’s opinions, not utter balderdash.

PS: Even tinsel town has not been spared of this phenomenon, as actor Katrina Kaif did not have the gumption to stand by her recent half-blood Indian remark, that was aimed at Congress princeling Rahul Gandhi, and had to tender an apology.

PS 2: Feel free to share your views on the issue.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How not to make movies and irritate audiences

There are movies that astonish us with their finesse as there are those that do so with their HQ or humbug quotient. Bodinayakkanur Ganesan falls in the latter category.

A protracted and a hopelessly predictable plot, over-the-top melodramatic sequences, dialogues that lack brevity and gaping holes in the screenplay’s logic are some of Bodi...’s minuses. A voiceover at the beginning of the movie, probably that of the director’s, asks the viewer not to confuse the film they are about to see with a Bharathirajaa movie. He need not, the viewer would have found that out minutes inside the movie.

Bodi... simply fails to make any effort to engage its audience. After all, how would it if it comprises scenes where the hero, Ganesan (Harikumar), suffers a series of epileptic attacks, but recovers the very next instant (even Maggi noodles takes 2 minutes to prepare!); the villain, Thiruvachi (Ravishankar), a local don chases and hunts hogs in sewers for food, but kills a municipality official when he exterminates one of them (PETA, are you reading?); the animosity between Ganesan and Thiruvachi, despite the former loyally selling hooch and ganja manufactured by the latter, is never explained. “All because of incidents that occurred 15 years back,” Thiruvachi, whose expressions fluctuate between a guffaw and a grimace, utters constantly, throwing a hint that a flashback is imminent. The flashback does occur eventually, whose utility is nil.

Ganesan gets attracted to Raji (Arundhati), a nurse, who repulses his initial advances, but falls in love with him later. Thiruvachi too has an eye on Raji, thus completing the love triangle.
However, Bodi... has some genuinely hilarious scenes involving Harikumar and Soori, which are, unfortunately, few and far in between. The hills surrounding the town of Bodinayakkanur have been captured on camera in their pristine glory.

In one scene, Thiruvachi after reading about an achievement of Ganesan in the papers, thunders, “How the hell did it happen?” We would like to ask the director how the movie happened.

Rajagopalan Venkataraman