Skip to main content

Scripting a neo-noir success in Indian cinema

Article can also be read at:

An analysis into the success – and failure – of the national award winning Tamil movie Aranya Kandam  

The slick, pulp fiction-like poster of Aaranya Kaandam, perhaps the first Tamil neo-noir movie

by Rajagopalan Venkataraman

Think noir in Indian cinema and it is but natural to think of movies based on gangsters and internecine wars for supremacy. Notable examples in this genre include the Amitabh Bacchan-starrer Zanjeer, Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan and Ram Gopal Varma’s repertoire of mafia sagas, ranging from Satya to Company and D. Save for a few, a majority of such movies, in their bid to dish out “masala” entertainers – a euphemism for a film that has something for all sections of audiences – have traditionally offered the backseat to factors like story and screenplay. Ergo, when Aaranya Kandam (the jungle chapter) – perhaps the first Tamil neo-noir movie – recently bagged a slew of awards, including two national awards, Indian cinema aficionados had a genuine cause for celebration.

Aaranya... can very well be the syces’ dark horse: with plenty of newbies in its cast and a debutant director, few would have expected it to garner as much attention as it eventually did. Far from the traditional ‘macho’ Tamil movie – parodied to different levels of hilarity in movies such as Om Shanti Om or Quick Gun MuruganAaranya...’s USP was its readiness to discard such stereotypes. With a theme that would make a Quentin Tarantino or a Francis Ford Coppola proud – how a henchman betrayed by his gang goes about reclaiming his space – it was also aided by taut editing; in fact, one of the national awards that the movie bagged was for its editing.

Every character was etched in a novel yet realistic manner and accorded almost equal importance in the plot. The villager’s son who would not hesitate to abuse his bumbling, drunkard father; the don – Jackie Shroff in his first Tamil movie – learning English from a ‘learn in 30-days’ book and using it at the unlikeliest of the moments; or the sexually-abused gangster’s concubine who wouldn’t bat an eyelid before ‘using’ her close friend ensure that viewers have jaw-dropping moments aplenty.

Prior to its release, Aaranya... was in the crosshairs of the censor board, and it isn’t difficult to see why. With profanities abound in its dialogues, most of which have been bleeped out, the movie could have offered stiff competition to Hollywood’s Scarface or The Departed or Bollywood’s Delhi Belly. Violence, too, was integral to the movie, offered in generous doses in the form of slo-mo sequences of men being slit and hacked to death (after all, what’s a gangster movie without violence?) but this, along with its somewhat predictable ending, can be papered over for a super-fast narrative, and witty, sharp dialogues.

Not your typical gangster movie...
If ever viewing Aaranya... makes for a gripping experience, mention must be made of its music composer, Yuvan Shankar Raja, as well, who has effectively employed two elements – silence and the yesteryear hits of his father Ilayaraja, which can be likened to a leitmotif – to create the atmosphere of the gangster-ridden north Chennai. The director, Thyagarajan Kumararaja – who bagged the national award for best directorial debut – had earlier scripted the dialogues for the Arya-Pooja starrer Oram Po, a laughter riot.

However, despite collecting awards that may fill a mantelpiece, its makers had reason for worry: Aaranya... was reportedly a dud at the box-office.

Popular posts from this blog

Chennai’s Fourth Estate at War

Touching upon competitive spirit, the legendary writer George Orwell, in an essay dated 1945, had described sport as war minus the shooting. He could very well be referring to the ongoing veiled battle between two of India's English dailies.

When “India’s national newspaper since 1878” and the “Largest read English daily in the world” decide to slug it out over Chennai’s newspaper readership, rest assured that the battle would spill over to the TV media, as was witnessed recently. Cheeky indeed were the ads that thumbed the nose at one another; though, few were in doubt over who the target was.

To the uninitiated, the two newspapers – The Hindu and The Times of India(TOI), respectively – have modus operandi that are as identical as chalk is to cheese, or uppu (salt) is to upma, a South Indian snack. The "war" in question is the race to get hold of the average Chennaiite, and eventually the Indian, newspaper reader’s attention.

And no, this piece of opinion isn’t about the…

7am arivu: Chennai-China Medley Falls Flat

Should ever a book titled ‘The Art of Deception by Flattery’ be authored, A R Murugadoss’ 7 am arivu (the seventh sense) would probably rank atop in its index; it could even be a case study on how to crash land viewers’ expectations after building it up to a crescendo.
The movie begins with a flashback, when we are told that a Pallava princeling (Surya) migrated to China and became the Shaolin master we know today as Bodhidharma. 
Cut to the present. Subha Srinivasan (Shruti Hasan – actor Kamal Hasan’s daughter making her Tamil debut) is a student of genetic engineering whose research causes the jitters to the People’s Republic of China, forcing them to send a spy, Dong Lee (Hollywood actor Johnny Nguyen, who was also a stunt double in Spiderman and Spiderman-2) to bump her off and spread an epidemic in India. (Are we taking a cue from Hollywood, which during the Cold War era vilified then USSR?) Thrown in the conundrum is Aravind (Surya again) a circus artiste, who falls head-over-hee…

Tamil Nadu’s Thala-Thalapathy conundrum