Sunday, February 21, 2010

Politics in Tamizh Cinema

Written for Claps and Boos.
Since the time that Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi and Bharat Ratna M.G. Ramachandran used their movies to propagate their ideals to the masses, Tamil films have always had a intertwined relationship with the politics in Tamil Nadu.
While there has been no dearth of actors in politics and politicians in movies in Tamizh Nadu, there have been very few movies dealing with Politics in Tamizh Movies. Here is a look at few of them (not exhaustive or based on any merit - just a few of the recent ones):
  1. Iruvar - This is, in my opinion, one of the best bio-pics made in Tamizh Cinema. Mani Ratnam does an amazing job in picking two characters best known in Tamizh Arasiyal (politics) - that of MGR and Karunanidhi and has based his movie on their lives. (To be politically correct, lets just say they were based). The best thing that Mani Ratnam did was to avoid showing one of them as the villain or a negative character. Anandan's intentions behind politics (To eradicate poverty) and Tamizhselvan's Dravidian philosophy are shown countermanding from the first scene in which Anandan and TamizhSelvan meet. The weakness and insecurity that both these giants of TN Politics go through in the movie are brilliantly portrayed by Mohan Lal who plays Anandhan and Prakash Raj who plays Tamizhselvan. The scene where Anandan comes out on the terrace of Tamizhchelvan's house and sees the crowd is a perfect scene of movie making basics, and of course A.R. Rahman's awe-inspiring BGM. For many Tamizh Cinema fans who complain that Rahman does not do justice to BGMs, please see his works with Mani and you shall know the man's genius. The others in the cast, too, perform amply within the scope - with the pick of them being Gauthami and Rajesh.
  2. Ayitha Ezhuthu - A populist story, Mani Ratnam deals with college politics and how rowdyism has come to play a ever present role in politics. This movie literally revealed two actors to Tamizh Cinema, who have gone places after this movie. First is the best performer in this movie, R. Madhavan, who playing Inbasekar, completely overwhelms you. He is not playing a likeable character - and being recognized as Alaipaayudhey Madhavan, it must have been difficult for him to convince the audience as a out and out moral-less and unscrupulous character. The real victory for Mani and of course, Madhavan is that by the end of the movie, you really hated Inbasekar, which was an accomplishment of sorts, for the public image of Madhavan at that point of time was that of a chocolate boy. The second winner in this movie was Surya - who played a populist, slightly-left student politician, Michael Vasanth. Surya, who had matured through Nandha, grown through Kaakha Kaakha, arrived through Ayitha Ezhuthu. It is interesting to note that R. Madhavan has scaled new heights in Indian cinema with varied and versatile roles in Rang De Basanti and 3 Idiots, while Surya is now a frontline actor who, has carefully balanced mindless masala movies like Aaru and noteworthy, versatile movies like Vaaranam Aayiram. Inspired from Amerros Perros, Mani Ratnam crafted a screenplay wherein a shooting incident is the central spot of meeting for the the three characters in the movie. This movie though, was not one amongst Mani's best efforts and the third track involving Siddarth was not as well developed as one expects in a Mani movie. The other revelation in this movie was Bharathi Raja, who plays the corrupt minister, Selvanayagam who brings such realism to his character that it sometimes hurts! This was the first album where Rahman went all out with an international feel - Dol Dol, Hey Goodbye Nanba and Yakkai Thiri being new sounds for the Tamizh ears. And incidentally, Yakkai Thiri was one of those few songs in Tamizh music that does not have any verbs in it. (Trivia time?!)
  3. Makkal-aatchchi - R.K. Selvamani's masterpiece tells about a the tale of Mamootty, who gets involved in politics purely by chance and rises to the position of a Chief Minister of a state. This movie put in solid scenes what people were till then assuming about the rich and powerful in politics then - that they had little to no ethics, no morals and would go to any lengths for money and power. The movie starts off well and the first half is as good as any other movie in Tamizh Cinema. The second half has lots of twists (some of them unneeded) and at the end of the movie you do not know whether you can believe what our leaders say in the media. Mamootty as expected, takes the honors in the acting department while the movie also boasts of some sharp editing work. The music, as can be expected of non-Ilayaraja or non-Rahman movies of those times is hardly note-worthy.
  4. Mudhalvan - Shankar's take on current affairs and politics, this movie creates a fantasy genre in political movies. Originally supposed to have been scripted for none other than the Superstar Rajni Kanth, this movie, surprisingly has Arjun Sarja in the lead and ends up being one of Arjun's best works - apart from Gentleman and Ayudha Poojai. The movie has a very identifiable cause - that politicians are more concerned about their vote-bank and so resort to caste politics and of course Shankar's pet theme - Corruption. The screenplay is one of the best in TC - there is almost no sag in the story till the end. And the lines by Sujatha were brilliant, especially the interview scene between Pughazendhi (Arjun) and Aranganathan (Raghuvaran). The only complaint with this movie was the romantic angle, played by Manisha Koirala who pretty much comes only for duets. Coming to duets, this movie again has A.R. Rahman at the helm and he churns out delightful numbers and some terrific BGMs too - especially for the scenes when Arjun is the CM for a day.
  5. Bharath Bandh - This was a movie I had seen when I was really young and I suspect is a Telugu dubbed movie. This movie again, is based on Political intrigue and as suggested by its title is based around a bandh organized by some politicians for their personal gains. This movie, though, not great in terms of acting or cast (the lone saviour being the national award winning actress, Archana), shows you a sample of how politicians make self centered and short sighted decisions, purely based on their and their kin's well being with little or no regard for the public who voted them to power. The movie also features some gruesome killings and violence.
The interesting thing has been that though the perceived ills of politics - namely, caste/religion based politics, pseudo-secularism, corruption, coercion and rowdyism have been graphically represented in movies like the ones listed above and many others, it is pitiable that nothing has changed. It is really disappointing to see even well educated people getting involved in caste wars and tax evasion issues, even as recently as yesterday!!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

B and C Center Audience - Modern Day Mythical Creature

For the original, please visit: Claps and Boos
How often have you come across these?
  1. Hero gets down from a car. Camera low angle pans from the heroes shoe lace to head. And then the camera keeps a low angle shot and the hero walks as if he in constipation (aka slow motion).
  2. Some horrible ‘punch’ dialog, where the line has no relevance to the movie or the scene – but has loads of meaning of the star’s real life activities
  3. The hero is allowed to gallivant with whores, call girls and all that. But the heroine has to be a vestal virgin. If she was previously married, it would not have been consummated.
The reason that the hero (in the case of non-acting actor Vijay) or the directors give us, the audience, is that they are catering to the B and C center audience. I have been long wondering who this mythical C Center audience is who is receiving so much leniency from the director and the film fraternity. The scenes in Vettaikaaran or Aegan did not impress anyone – which is why you see the movies had a poor run in the theaters starting not only in Sathyam in Chennai but also at Kottaampatti.
I strongly believe that today’s heroes treat cinema as an easy way to make money. If you have some political backing or financial backing, you can quite easily make a movie and then using the political strings make a publicity splash with “Siraapaga vetri nadai podum” being tagged to the movie right from the first of the movie’s screening in all TV channels. And from thereon, all you got to do is to turn up for shooting and you are an ‘actor’. Bash up 5 goons, sing 5 duets, talk some utter crap dialogs as ‘punch’ dialogs and go home and in the process make a bit of money. This seems to be a sweet deal to me.
In Shankar style, while MBA’s from IIM or B.Tech’s from IIT fight to keep themselves at the top of the pecking order in their industries by taking up more certifications, the Tamil Hero has perhaps the cushiest job that you can imagine. He has an excuse to do nonsensical stuff – tell the population that B and C Center audience only like that kind of stuff, conveniently hiding the fact that their recent movie was ripped in every available center. Starting from Rajni Kanth and Kamal Haasan to the newest kid on the block like Vishal and Bharath invariably are nowadays using this reason of center audience for giving stupid movies.
From all these, I can have only two inferences – that this mythical B and C center audience is nobody but the brainless fans/fanatics for these actors. These fans have to be classified in the lowest possible IQ group known to mankind. How often have I seen some guy say “I’m seeing this movie for __________”. These fan boys are not only insulting their intelligence (assuming they have some) but also spoiling Tamil Movies for the general audience too (Point to be noted: Any actor’s fan boy population is surely less than the other group of normal Tamil cinema audience). These fans/fanatics of these heroes are the reason number one that Tamizh cinema has denigrated to its current levels. That is why you see a substandard actors like Silambarasan or Jai or any other new actor who do not have even an iota of acting skill in them trying to ‘praise’ another established hero to make sure he will get some stupid fan boys of the established hero to support him. So this fan boys syndrome is like a plague, threatening to make Tamil Cinema irrelevant and stupid in this age of realistic cinema. While we see an Avatar and are wowed by the technical aspects in it or 3 Idiots and cannot stop gushing about the story, we turn a blind eye towards stupid movies being churned out in Tamil cinema.
In this regard, I declare the fan boys of heroes as Public Enemy No.1 for Tamil Cinema.