Nagesh Thiraiyarangam Review: A Desperate Bid To Scare

Nagesh Thiraiyarangam begins with a cautious disclaimer following the court order: the film is not based on the late actor Nagesh or the Nagesh theatre he owned; it is a work of fiction, and woefully so. But, simple pleasures, first. Nagesh Thiraiyarangam, as the name suggests, is perhaps one of the few tales of horror that doesn’t unfold in a haunted house. It’s still a building but a theatre, and because of that tiny but significant deviation from the usual tropes of the genre, there’s a small glimmer of hope that the film would probably be convincing in its portrayal of the paranormal.

But Director Mohammad Issack wants a horror that would work at many levels, and to that effect he employs plot within subplot, introduces romance, a contrived premise with family, and relies on an otherwise funny Kaali Venkat for comedy. Nagesh (actor Aari, whose 2014 highway romance, Nedunchalai, remains one of his career best) is an unemployed youth who suddenly finds himself in need of quite a lot of cash for his sister’s wedding; the job he’d just managed to land is turned over to another aspirant (Ashna Zaveri) – a woman whom he later falls in love with. And so, Nagesh has to resort to selling the theatre that his family owns – but little does he know that the cinema hall already has a resident: a white, hairy, CG-created apparition that dwells in the well in the backyard.

In Issack’s tale though, the paranormal entity is also haunted by her brutal past for which she seeks retribution. She swishes in and out of places at will, has eyes the colour of a tomato and a voice that would shatter glass, slams doors, and generally behaves like a spoiled child. The background score is jarring and loud in these portions, earnest in its intent to scare, but only managing to be unpleasantly noisy. Nagesh and company though, continue to subject themselves to the …supernatural conditions in the theatre, just so that they could disprove the fear surrounding it. It’s a hard plot to sell, but like other films in the genre, it’s a script constructed around elements of horror, with the sole aim to scare, rather than narrate a tale that necessitates audience investment. Unfortunately, Nagesh Thiraiyarangam doesn’t quite fulfill even that  singular purpose it sets out with.

The Nagesh Thiraiyarangam review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

‘My Happy Family’ Is A Life-Like Portrait Of A Woman Who Just Wants To Let Go

A year after its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2017, Georgian director Nana Ekvtimishvili’s My Happy Family may not have attained the kind of fame that some films have, but it has had its fair share of recognition, as a tale featuring a 50-something woman who chooses to break away from her family

Nana Ekvtimishvili’s search engine yield is modest; she doesn’t yet belong to the league of directors whose names trigger a hundred thousand entries – there’s the cursory Wikipedia entry, half a dozen interviews, and a couple of articles about her movies. Nothing else; even losing oneself in the long, winding labyrinths of the search engine produces only a few features that date back to 2013 – the year when In Bloom – a coming-of-age film about two teenage girls set against the backdrop of the Georgian Civil War – had released. Raw, poignant, and cutting, it traces the journey of Ekha and Natia who navigate a violent, war-torn and patriarchal society in independent Georgia, and at the same time, deal with the angst of young adulthood.

It was Georgia’s Oscar submission for 2014.

Photographs of Nana Ekvtimishvili show a curly-haired woman in her prime; along with husband and co-director Simon Gross, she speaks with a distinct Georgian accent in an interview. Having left Tbilisi by the end of 90s to pursue dramaturgy at a university in Germany where she met Simon, Nana, during an interview at the 19th Sarajevo Film Festival, describes the process of making In Bloom as one that involved “collecting emotions” from the land she grew up in. Nana recalls that during the making of the film, she ran into a classmate from school who was abducted and married at the age of 14; that poignant little memory is an integral part of In Bloom.

It would be another few years before yet another co-directorial with Simon would emerge. My Happy Family, in contrast to that of her earlier film, and her novel The Pear Field about a school for abandoned children, follows a teacher in her fifties who quits her familial home and rents a house for herself. Confronting her decision are her parents, husband and adult children who live together in a cramped apartment. Manana and her family talk different languages, says Ekvtimishvili in an interview with Cine Europa, “She’s trapped between the desire for freedom and her family, but it’s not easy for her as her family has a different point of view. Manana knows this, but she chooses to go her way.”

Earlier, in a telling scene, Manana is chided by her mother for eating cake before dinner, and a while after, she tiptoes into the room where her daughter and son-in-law sleep, to get her clothes from the wardrobe. The frames are constructed thoughtfully, the shots long, never in a hurry, just content to capture the minutiae of everyday life. Their home looks suitably lived in, chipped window panes and fraying wallpaper, exuding a lovely unpolished charm as an apartment housing a multi-generational family would. In one scene, Manana is shown buying grocery; she mulls over a few tomatoes, stashes a bundle of dill, only to discard them a few moments later. The scene, at first, doesn’t seem to be of any consequence, but it transforms into a delightful little metaphor as the film flows – Manana arrives at her family home soon after, packs her bags and leaves amidst loud protests. She is placid throughout; rarely do we see her lose composure even when her mother berates her for leaving a husband who’s not violent. What’s wrong with him, she bellows, he doesn’t hit you like the other husbands.

The film seldom lets Manana talk aloud, choosing instead to linger on the sights and sounds to build the narrative. During an instance, after a particularly noisy confrontation with her extended family who pour in to ‘reunite’ her with her husband, she arrives in her apartment, plays some music – lovely cello notes – lets in some breeze and fixes herself a piece of cake. It’s pleasant this solitude, and for a few lovely moments, the camera drinks in the scene; it’s just Manana, with her back to the lens and the soothing gush of breeze.

The frames in the film are accentuated by sounds, sometimes capturing the general cacophony of a full household, and during others, revelling in the silence punctuated only by the distant chirping of birds, or gentle everyday sounds that inhabit the domestic sphere. When Manana, during the course of the film, stumbles upon her husband’s affair, she strums a little melody surrounded by friends; the notes are thoughtful, even reflective, and not entirely poignant.

My Happy Family also places the lives of two women who are intimate as only a mother and daughter can be, but with vastly different mindscapes. Lamara, Manana’s mother, is baffled by her daughter’s decision; she is someone who dutifully, meticulously prepares a menu for the table – for unannounced guests – despairs at her husband’s indifference, berates her grandson for his ill manners, but wipes down after him all the same. At times, despite Lamara’s strict, almost stifling environment she chooses to be in, and her rigid adherence to obsolete social constructs, the heart goes out to her. For here’s a woman without agency, someone who, unlike her daughter who can fly the cage at will, is woefully chained to her beliefs. She may not measure up to the modern society, or hold ideals that would endear her to it, but her life, if anything, is a poignant reminder of the number of women who know nothing but a starkly gender-normative world.

My Happy Family is available for viewing on Netflix.

*****

Sollividava Review: An Insipid Script That Doesn’t Rise Above Being A Launchpad For Aishwarya Arjun

If Sollividava establishes anything at all, it is the fact that the director needs a lesson or two in portraying romance – or just about any emotion, for that matter.

The script has the leads – Aishwarya Arjun and Chandan – engage in what it thinks is light, flirtatious banter, before journeying towards the inevitable (well supported by hearts, lest it escapes the audience), but this isn’t the kind of film where one looks for nuance. Fifteen minutes into Sollividava, there’s the stark realisation that the script wouldn’t quite rise above being a launchpad for Aishwarya Arjun. Written, directed, produced and distributed by Arjun Sarja, with what seems like the whole of Arjun clan is in the project, this family enterprise features Aishwarya Arjun swishing down in an array of outfits, flicking hair from this side to that, and spouting dialogues off ‘Romeo & Juliet’. For the film is a romance, and that needs to be established… just in case the script’s ineffectuality surfaces before the leads’ love for each other.

When Sollividava begins, Madhu, a television journalist, (Aishwarya) is seen reprimanding an industrialist on her show… for ignoring his mother. A tearful union of mother and son later, Madhu is sent on an assignment: To cover the Kargil war for her channel. A reporter from a rival channel is on the mission, too. He’s brilliant, the film hints, having floated up a camera tied to a balloon to expose a corrupt and murderous politician. The director-writer seems unable to help himself, adding a very unassuming congratulatory note by way of dialogue: You seem better than Mudhalvan’s Arjun!

Soon, the reporters embark on the journey together, fall out of favour with each other, but fall in love anyway – all set against Arjun’s favourite backdrop – Nationalism. There’s war, strife, some patriotic (and religious) fervor, songs that aren’t tailored to fit, and a romance that seems extremely insipid at best.

Sollividava may have been well-intentioned, as a tale that would explore conflict within and outside of a relationship, but it’s jarringly superficial, right down to the cast and locales. The Kargil scenes are a welcome relief, but even those aren’t enough to sustain interest in a film that seems content with its focus on style over substance.

*****

The Sollividava review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Savarakathi Review: A Mysskin Film That Shines When It’s Humorous

Perhaps the most exciting feature of GR Adithya’s debut film – which almost has every attribute that has come to be associated with Mysskin’s movies – is Arrol Corelli’s background score. It flows like a beautiful orchestra; a symphony that clashes brilliantly with the action on screen. Where another filmmaker would have woven in a regular music template – fast-paced riffs built to a crescendo, Mysskin has Arrol pluck some violin chords; it’s chaotic, melancholic and jaunty at the same time – and as director-actor Ram runs, with the villains hot on their heels, it draws a near-perfect visual musical graph. It almost becomes a character, sprinting when he sprints, leaping when he leaps, not quite providing auditory clues, or offering notes of sympathy – but just alive and breathing. Corelli’s music lent Pisaasu – the 2015 Mysskin horror – the eeriness it wanted; the script may have been unreasonably morbid, but that wasn’t a surprise, really.

Mysskin’s films are distinct in their subdued palette; there’s quite a lot of grey that lends the frames an almost dull pallor, but the juxtaposition of props, characters and other elements in Savarakathi is quite clever. Across scenes, the bright blue of Poorna’s sari is in sharp relief against other muted shades. In some frames, even the sun seems hesitant; its glow reduced to an almost dusty yellow. But that’s the setting that Mysskin wants us to believe in; a landscape that wants to be urban but is not yet free of its rural vestiges.

Pichai is a barber with a penchant for old Tamil cinema music. He is not the paternal sort – he whacks a boy on the head when he fidgets on the chair, turns up the volume so that his father wouldn’t hear his whimpers – and, seems to be a lousy husband. A few minutes after Pichai is introduced, he shouts down his wife right outside his shop; but Subhadra (Poorna) isn’t the one to be cowed. She may be hard of hearing, but she has quite a few Tamil aphorisms ready, armed with one for every situation.

It’s almost as if the people who dot the Mysskin canvas just need to have a peculiarity, a unique attribute that would leap out of the frames, become larger than the characters themselves. If Pichai is a father of three who ekes out an existence, living among his precious tools – a savarakkathi that he treasures – and odd delusions of grandeur, his wife Subhadra, has a hearing impairment. While the filmmaker uses her disability to indulge in comedy, she’s rescued just in time from being caricatured – her pregnancy is saucily, empoweringly used rather than milking it for emotion. During an instance, when the bike she travels in – with her husband, two children, and a very heavy belly – meets with an accident, the audience is allowed to assume the worst before the camera cannily moves in on the scene: Subhadra keeps her perch atop the bike, grinning down at her husband who’s rolling in the dust. During another, she fakes labour to escape her pursuers, climbing over parapets, kids in tow, a hand clutching her stomach. Corelli’s score is cheery in these parts, almost deceptively humorous.

But, watching Mysskin in a Mysskin-created world is… unsettling at best. He’s the wide-eyed villain of the piece. When Manga is introduced, he’s engaged in some creepy staring; nothing seems to deter him, neither the woman’s obvious discomfort, nor her husband’s presence. Mysskin imbues himself with the traits of a maniac; someone who’s vicious without reason. It’s a disconcerting watch, especially when you don’t have the stomach for violence – exaggerated and wholly unnecessary at times.

Savarakathi follows the premise of a few 2017 thrillers; the lives of a few people who are earnestly quirky, converge at an instance. The tale is crazy, filled with mad coincidences, strange characters, with stranger traits – in one scene, a woman almost murderously curses her runaway daughter’s husband; later when she discovers that her curse had actually come to pass in a weird time-warp, she has a silent moment of repentance. But the writing – along with Corelli’s score – doesn’t let the moment linger, it’s washed down in a hurry, flowing with the pace of events, making an impression, but not with that protracted pause usually employed to drive home an emotion.

What really arrives as a lovely surprise are those brief bursts of humour; granted there are moments devoted to loud slapstick gimmicks, and a few jokes die in their exuberance, but Mysskin weaves in some subtle comedy as well. And that makes one forgive the long, painful climax, the sentimental absurdity, and the rush of emotions that seem almost misplaced in a film which was, until then, revelling in its insanity.

*****

The Savarakathi review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Padaiveeran Review: An Engaging Coming-Of-Age Drama That Delves Deep Into Caste Politics

Perhaps the most brilliant feature of Padaiveeran is its ability to be utterly believable, no questions asked. The rustic landscape, characters who certainly belong in it, a tale – so riveting and poignant – which, even when transplanted in a starkly different setup, wouldn’t seem out of context.

In the second release of the weekend that talks caste and related evils – and set in a rural canvas – this directorial debut of Dhana cannot be rivalled. It touches upon caste in an intimate way that Madura Veeran, PG Muthiah’s venture doesn’t. Muneeswaran (Vijay Yesudas) is a youth of the land; he wanders around aimlessly without a job, is constantly heckled by his father and fellow village folk, but to no avail. Munees is delightfully irreverent though; he heartily eats his way through his father’s barbs, demands more kari. In some ways, Padaiveeran, in a backdrop of violent caste politics, is the tale of a reckless youth who becomes a man, an adult, experiencing those life-changing forces that deal him a harsh lesson or two. He evolves over the course of the film, through frames – lovingly-cut, but don’t always seek to endear him to the audience. During a particular instance, Munees runs away from his boot camp; the one in which he had enrolled himself, wanting to become a cop, almost threatening his father to part with the money. But as the training becomes intense, he scales walls, hits a few policemen and breaks away. His oor would have none of it though, it’s a matter of pride for them, and they cart him back to the camp as one would an errant child.

Padaiveeran is almost breezy, even deceptively humorous for what it sets out to achieve; there’s nary a whiff of its true intent until the latter half, when it emerges in all its dark glory. The best parts of the film are its leads, both debutants. Emotions flit across Vijay Yesudas’s face as if he were a dancer; in a particular instance that talks for itself, Muneeswaran cruelly mocks Malar (Amritha), but in the next, as she stands before him – tall, unperturbed, beautiful – he’s robbed of speech. Munees is unsure of what he feels; it’s evident that he likes what he sees, but he’s also very very puzzled. Yesudas’s face, in a delightful close-up, articulates all that and more. In the following scene, Munees, who has always had an acerbic tongue, grows visibly still as Malar passes by. It makes for one of the most thoughtfully constructed romantic scenes, if not the most politically correct.

If Madura Veeran had barely skimmed the surface of the intense, often bloody and violent caste politics, Padaiveeran delves deep, sorts and examines the reasons and attributes that give way to communal hatred – and love. For instance, we learn that the feeling of communal belonging, of caste, is something that works subliminally – often rearing its head only when challenged. It exists, the film reiterates, even in the hearts of carefree youth like Muneeswaran, baring its fangs like a poisonous cobra that strikes to wound – almost reflexively, thoughtlessly. That way, Dhana is quite the intuitive filmmaker. He knows what to work with, and how – he chooses a youthful someone whom one barely expects to be a caste fanatic, introduces relatable character attributes, places him in situations lifelike and unreal at the same time, gives a taste of what it really means to live as and among people who pride on their identity as if their life depends on it. Then, subverting the age rhetoric, he colours Bharathiraja – one of the village elders – in pleasing, non-communal tones.

Dhana is also someone who doesn’t care about pulling the rug from under your feet when it gets a little too cozy. That he does, quite effortlessly – and uninhibitedly – for a debutant. That instant, right when the world seems to crumble, is the one that the filmmaker uses to drive home his message. It may not be too subtle, but it certainly makes you think.

*****

The Padaiveeran review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Madura Veeran Review: Not A Portrait Of Jallikattu

Having watched Samuthirakani over two consecutive weeks – in two releases – there seems to be some concerted effort afoot. If in Nimir, Samuthirakani had been the frowning, brawny man who took to the cudgel like it was his birthright, in Madura Veeran, he’s the venerated oor thalaivar. Yes, as diverse as that. There’s even a whiff of Ejamaan about him, not by way of an heir of course, for here, it’s his heir that runs the story when he needs to exit the scene. But, Samuthirakani as Rathnavelu is the leader of a hamlet in Madurai – he kicks up a storm of dust when walking, big powerful strides; is muscly when required, and is also the wise man whom everyone loves and a few hate. His son, he would love to train to be the Madura Veeran – one who can tackle a bull as effortlessly as wearing a veshti neat.

Shanmugha Pandian isn’t the flamboyant actor that his father is – and that’s a great thing. While he does get paid all dues as a hero, right down to the token garland, Shanmugha Pandian as Durai is restrained. When he comes to know that a woman (Meenakshi) finds him attractive, a tiny smile tugs at the corner of his lips, but the rest of the time, he tries to be the part-good part-vengeful son who returns to his oor to reestablish a long abandoned tradition – Jallikattu.

That way, Madura Veeran has a lovely canvas, with flourishing rural touches that seek to engage when the movie begins. When the eponymous Madura Veeran returns, everyone thinks he’s here to marry, find a woman from his oor. The women though, are to be quite feisty, delightfully so. But the same woman who tells him to get lost when he makes known a preference for those who can make meen kuzhambu, quickly learns to make some. It’s a puzzling contradiction, but one that doesn’t warrant much attention anyway.

Jallikattu makes fleeting appearances in the film over news clippings on television, the bulls are all there, a semblance of the sport is shown towards the end, but the film doesn’t quite narrate the tale of the families – and community – with an almost divine reverence for bulls. It shows a young boy playfully sparring with a calf, and much later, the whole village congregates at its death, but Madura Veeran is more about the politics of the sport rather than its making. It’s steeped in caste politics, feudal lords who war over customs and traditions, but doesn’t quite explain the intensity with which the village heads go to war with one another – and also kill. Granted, Shanmugha Pandian does raise pertinent questions about caste, but you want to know why; why does it matter at all, why are we being shown seemingly meaningless squabbles over who gets to inaugurate the event rather than the participants of the event themselves? The families who raise the bulls, the animals that are chosen for the event, the loving devotion that they are shown, the almost strange way in which a bull’s performance impacts its owner’s popularity among his men – those are the stories that need to be collected, developed on, narrated. Instead, Madura Veeran turns out to be one of veecharuvas slicing the air and several necks, blank noise about caste politics, and a bunch of youth who crack bad jokes.

*****

The Madura Veeran review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Between The Lines: Writer R Bharathinathan On The Book That Has Inspired The Tamil Film ‘Sangathalaivan’

Of the half a dozen books authored by writer Bharathinathan, ‘Thariyudan’, the novel that released in 2014 to much acclaim, is of special significance – not just because it’s being adapted for screen

For Tamil writer R Bharathinathan, author of six books, the tale of Vetrimaaran’s latest production – Sangathalaivan – would seem quite familiar. It may starkly mirror his life, and perhaps, overlap or merge with his own reality. That’s probably why, when I call him up one afternoon to talk about his book, ‘Thariyudan’, which had inspired Sangathalaivan, and which is largely drawn from his own life, he has trouble dissociating himself from its characters. Narrating the tale of Rangan, a worker in a textile factory in a small town off Salem, he switches between the first and the third person – not without considerable effort. Sometimes it’s ‘I’, sometimes, it’s ‘Rangan’. I interrupt him to clarify; the book is a work of fiction, though? “Well,” he says, “If everything is real, then it can only be a documentary – oru avanappadama thaan iruka mudiyum. I’ve added some twists in the tale towards the end; kaapiyil konjam sarkarai serkara maadri [like sweetening coffee].”

For the most part, ‘Thariyudan’ and Sangathalaivan tell the same story, with snatches of reality that the writer could bear to part with. “It’s about a man, a kozhai [coward], who, due to his irakka subhavam [kindness of heart], tries helping a woman in distress, and how the process changes him as a person – he gradually becomes a sanga thalaivan [the leader of an association],” says Bharathinathan.

*

Jalakandapuram, a panchayat town in Salem district, 32 kilometres from the city centre, sees a flourishing textile industry, especially that of sarees. Weaving – both handlooms and powerlooms – remains the main source of livelihood, as is dairy-farming. Bharathinathan traces his roots and much of his adult life to this place. While he has since relocated to Chennai, his sons are still engaged in the trade, visaithari [powerloom], back in Salem. It’s here, in this near-rural landscape, characterised by temple festivals, and a few local deities who inspire a massive following, that ‘Thariyudan’ [With The Loom] is based. While Bharathinathan reiterates that the tale belongs to Rangan – the journey of a thozhilaaali [worker] who becomes a poraali [warrior] – it begins with a woman called Rasathi who works in a powerloom factory. She injures her hand while at work on the loom, her limb is pulled into the machinery, and even as her life is saved, she tragically loses her hand. The owner of the mill, a government officer, buys the family’s silence by offering Rs 20,000 to her drunkard father.

The jacket of ‘Thariyudan’, authored by R Bharathinathan

Watching this whole episode from the sidelines is Rangan, the owner’s trusted aide. “He is not a warrior by nature; someone who hates confrontations,” narrates Bharathinathan, “But the plight of the woman moves him, so he approaches the Visaithari Thozhilalar Sangam [the workers’ union] about the woman.” Raasathi finally gets due compensation, but then, the owner gets to know about Rangan’s involvement and seeks revenge.

Bharathinathan’s account then acquires an almost cinematic quality. A young woman called Kalyani, from an economically disadvantaged background, sets out to warn Rangan of the owner’s motives. “She’s the owner’s niece and tells him all that transpires at their house. She is in love with him.”

My mother died when I was young, says Bharathinathan, suddenly switching to the first person. It’s a little disorienting to the ear: “I have a younger sister, and back then, I was working away from home…”

He soon helps himself back though, easing back into the role of a distant narrator; only a few subtle vocal inflections, some sudden turns in voice aid in bridging the chasm between fiction and reality.

“Rangan soon has a false case foisted on him, is disowned by his father, and is taken under the wing of the union leader Sivalingam and his wife Velayyi, who ministers care.” The Sangam follows the Marxist ideology, informs Bharathinathan, but isn’t linked to any of the existing CPI or CPI (M) parties. “When Sivalingam is jailed under the Goondas Act of 1982, Rangan becomes the thalaivar [leader]. This is the crux of the story. There’s romance, and an almost fraternal relationship between Rangan and Raasathi, adhu oru aathmarthamana uravu [it’s something deep, heartfelt].”

*

While Priyadarshan’s Kanchivaram (2008) and Vasanthabalan’s Angadi Theru (2010) had explored the lives of workers in the textile industry – the former following the travails of a silk weaver, the latter detailing the near miserable lives led by two sales people – Bharathinathan declares that “it’s still something new to the world of cinema.” Director Manimaran already had a story in hand, “and I helped iron out some knots …sila sikkalgal. I understand screenplay well for I have some experience. I helped write the screenplay for the serial Romapuri Pandian which was aired on Kalaignar TV.”

From left: Actress Ramya, actor Karunas, writer R Bharathinathan, director Manimaran with producer-director Vetrimaaran and others at the launch ceremony. Pic: VJ Ramya/Twitter

Director Manimaran, who is adapting the novel to screen, is almost cautious when we speak. “I can’t tell you much,” he says, from the sets of Sangathalaivan in Chennai, “Vetrimaaran handed me the book as I like reading about socio-political issues. The film revolves around the lives of the textile mill workers; they want a raise and go on a strike. The women workers are made to work more than the stipulated eight hours, they don’t have proper sanitation facilities, too. The one who questions their working conditions is Samuthirakani – the head of the worker’s union – while Karunas is someone who approaches the union with a cause.”

Karunas plays Rangan, while Sunulakshmi (of Aramm fame) plays Kalyani. VJ Ramya essays the role of Velayyi. “She [Velayyi] is a great character,” Bharathinathan enthuses, “a typical rural woman. When I was disowned by my family, she took me under her wing, and cared for me like a sister. She’s hard on the outside; kanavana kadumaya thittuvanga [she would yell at her husband], but is loving at heart. She’s still alive. In fact, almost all important characters you would see in the movie, and who are a part of the tale, are living.”

Debutante Divya – an actress from Trichy – plays the role of Raasathi. “I am not a cinemakaaran,” says Bharathinathan, “I didn’t want to meet the team, but I wanted to talk to Divya about Raasathi. She grasped the character well.”

Raasathi is alive and well too, he says, “We still share a lovely bond; I helped organise her wedding…”

*

Kalyani and Rangan don’t marry, declares Bharathinathan almost impassively when I ask after her, “We couldn’t marry; her uncle intervened and got her married to someone else.” He turns a little brusque then, grappling with the idea of pursuing a strand of reality that may perhaps be a little too revealing, and refuses to answer questions about his family.

He can talk more about his work, though – and somewhat hesitantly mentions two others books of his that have also caught the interest of filmmakers. ‘Vandherigal’, his second novel, is based in Nagari, Andhra Pradesh. “The workers in Jalakandapuram, after getting a loan from the mill owners would flee to Nagari unable to repay it,” he says, deconstructing the premise, “if you walk down the streets of Nagari, people there would ask you if you are a visaithari thozhilali… one such worker is Chandru, who meets a wonderful woman called Saritha. She’s a sex worker, and a romance blossoms between the two…”

His third book, ‘Aakkati’, too, may be adapted for screen. “It’s too early to discuss that,” says Bharathinathan, “I’m still in talks with producers and directors…”

Sangathalaivan is currently being filmed in Chennai. The team will later move to Salem for the next schedule. Bobo Shashi of Kulir 100 Degree fame composes music as Manimaran directs. Vetrimaaran produces the project under his Grassroot Film Company.

Featured image: VJ Ramya/Twitter

*****

The R Bharathinathan interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Nimir Review: Udhayanidhi Has Chosen Well, But This Remake Isn’t As Classy As The Original

As Dileesh Pothan’s  Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016) begins, a lovely melody wafts over a lovelier landscape. The imagery is so idyllic, unaffected, the accompanying beats just as charming that there’s an instant connect with the space that the filmmaker wants you to know. It’s an intimate portrait, rustic at heart, a celebration of the land he knows and loves well.

Pothan also invokes a mythical woman in the accompanying ode – he names her Idukki, after the glorious countryside, pans over life in the land as it exists. Once, it’s the tilling of the lush red earth, during others, it’s the harvest of a succulent root-tuber, or the country folk about their business; the frames perfectly in sync with the lyrics. The director and the lyricist also imbue Idukki with several characteristics over the course of the song; she acquires various forms, too –a lone woman weaving a comb through her hair, several womenfolk in harmonious domesticity, or just the rain-washed countryside.

When the poet sings of a spirited Idukki, a feisty little girl appears, hands firmly on hips. It makes for beautiful cinema, one that almost flows like a musical; between the filmmaker’s love for his land, he makes warm, informal introductions to his characters. Fahadh Faasil, when he appears, is vigorously scrubbing himself by the river, body streaked in foam, or stirring a pot over the stove, a towel carelessly slung over a shoulder.

Priyadarshan’s Nimir, starring Udhayanidhi, also has such frames that revel in their simplicity. The opening sequence though – the one which served to establish kinship with the audience in the original – is disappointingly cosmetic. If Maheshinte… had been fluid, almost delightfully abstract in its portrayal of the Idukki landscape, Priyadarshan opts for a more physical in-your-face representation to introduce his. A woman, dressed in heavy anklets and thick jewellery to mimic Tamil nativity, cavorts in pools and in fields with such gay abandon that it seems almost alien to the eye. Obviously, the world can never see another Oyila, especially not one that lacks the necessary rustic charm, and is unfamiliar with her surroundings.

But Udhyananidhi, with his perfect Dravidian features, someone who can pull up his veshti with a jerk of his ankle (there’s something insanely attractive about a flawlessly-worn veshti, the fold angled just so), is prudent casting – there aren’t many actors in the Tamil space who haven’t been already bestowed with specific heroic attributes. It’s something that a pre-Vikram Vedha Vijay Sethupathi could have played with flourish, but Udhayanidhi, still fresh and largely untainted, is a snug fit. His emotions may not be spontaneous, nor are his comedic lines particularly humorous, but that’s more of a flaw in the setting than the characterisation.

Manithan, another remake that the actor was a part of, is proof that he can deliver fiery lines, evoke a feeling if necessary. In Nimir [look up/chin up], he’s subdued for the most part, deadpanning when the script calls for humour, and almost dispassionate in romance. Which is just as well, for he’s a photographer whose work is almost clerical; he’s no artiste, not one like his father (a restrained J Mahendran) anyway, who sees beauty in the mundane, with the wild ability to idly gaze at the rain for hours together.

Udhayanidhi, as Selvam, owns a photo studio, shoots one dull photograph after another, quite comfortable in his mediocrity until he’s confronted with a rather unexpected assignment. Early in the film, he attends a funeral; the prospect of it excites him – he would finally meet his beloved who works in another city. The funeral, incidentally, is that of her grandfather’s. She arrives, they meet, and amidst the lament and cries, there are some stirrings of romance set to melodious scale.

Maheshinte… had successfully married humour and romance in this sequence, but much before it could happen, the 2014 Tamil film, Mundasuppatti had achieved this to greater effect, with a touch of melancholy. About a village that harbours quirky superstitions, it starred Vishnu Vishal (also a photographer) and Nandita Sweta in the lead – and its opening sequence featured a rather lovely number scored by Sean Roldan. Part-lament part-romantic melody, the body of the song – beautifully arranged – was a seamless blend of contrasting notes. Sean Roldan, whose voice almost acquires a nasal quality while rendering the first couple of lines, turns warm and dreamy as it flows over to the next few.

*****

There’s something intrinsically wrong about comparing a remake with its original –a remake is never a copy, not in the literal sense, anyway – but where Maheshinte Prathikaram scored was with its rooted narrative. The characters intimately knew their landscape, as did the director, and situations were never prone to hyperbole – it’s quite baffling to watch Selvam’s serious conviction to exact revenge, the intensity is a little hard to fathom.

Parvathy Nair, who plays Valli, Selvam’s girlfriend, is quite the sophisticate; you don’t quite believe her when she says she had a karunkaapi – straightened hair and all – it doesn’t quite roll off her tongue the way it should. Namitha Pramod though, turns in a convincing portrayal – much of the second half belongs to her, and she has a riveting screen presence as Malar.

But the most unforgivable lapse of all occurs much towards the end, in the guise of humour; the gallery laughs as intended of course, but for the ones who recognise the sexist, almost Whatsappy nature of the joke, there’s an unpleasant aftertaste.

*****

The Nimir review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Malini Jeevarathnam’s Documentary ‘Ladies And Gentlewomen’ Tackles Homophobia Even As It Celebrates Queer Relationships

Director Malini Jeevarathnam’s Ladies And Gentlewomen seeks to normalise LGBT relationships in a starkly heteronormative society

At the screening of Ladies And Gentlewomen, Malini Jeevarathnam, director of the documentary that advocates LGBT rights, recalled that she was near suicidal around the time she decided to make the film. “I was confused and was on the verge of killing myself, that’s when I met Pa. Ranjith annan,” she said.

Malini, in a crisp white shirt and jeans, and closely cropped hair, spoke a little after 8 pm on Sunday night, to a packed theatre at Prasad Labs. The audience, many of them streaked in colour, swarmed all over the near 200-seater auditorium; the ones who couldn’t find a seat filled out on the steps, and the rest pressed themselves against the walls. The crowd seemed to know and love Pa Ranjith, whose Neelam Productions, had bankrolled the documentary. His newly-formed Casteless Collective too, were out there in full force, armed with a couple of gaana songs to support the movement.

“…Ranjith said, ‘do not live for others, live for yourself,’” Malini continued, “And that’s how the film was born.”

Pic: Malini Jeevarathnam’s Facebook page

The teaser of Ladies And Gentlewomen is a hilarious affair. A voice – Malini’s – gently teases out a question. ‘Oru kadhai sollata‘ [Shall I tell you a story?]

Ladies And Gentlewomen begins with a shot of a couple in bed – two women entwined in love. Over the 47-minute documentary, there are happy stories, heartbreaking stories, mythical ones – all featuring lesbian women. For Malini, it is as much an effort to normalise their sexuality, as it is an attempt at advocating their rights. “This film is for the parents,” she says, much before the documentary could be screened. And, so it is. Amidst the romantic tale of Sree Mukherjee and Suchandra Das, a Bengali lesbian couple who married in 2015, the folklore that traces its origin to Madurai – of Pappathi and Karuppayi – who dared to fall in love, and later killed themselves, the numerous suicides and honour killings of couples who identified themselves as gay or queer, Malini weaves in ‘lessons’ on homosexuality.

“I didn’t want to feature couples who would get into trouble later with their families,” she says. Early on in the film, she travels around the countryside with a mic and a question [‘Who’s a lesbian?’]. The answers she receives range from mildly funny to downright nasty. Malini enlists the help of several LGBT activists and legal advocates to hold forth on the evils of Section 377, and the other articles of the Constitution it infringes on in the process.

Pic: Malini Jeevarathnam’s Facebook page

Psychologist Magdalene Jeyarathinam, one of the people featured in the documentary, talks about women who suppress their burgeoning sexuality, and whose orientation become known only at the time of their wedding while Subha Kannan, a teacher of Sanskrit narrates her own experience of having encountered gay couples in college, and her gradual acceptance of the community. Writer Charu Nivedita, who identifies as bi-sexual, recalls the time when he’d come out. “A friend of mine wanted to know if I would sleep with him,” he says, “Imagine if I were heterosexual, if I ask a woman walking down the road if she’d like to sleep with me, won’t I get clobbered? People fail to understand that the same rules that govern heterosexual relationships are in place here as well. You need to be attracted to the person, you need to fall in love…”

The documentary screening was preceded by the ‘Lesbian Anthem‘, a music video that celebrates lesbian love, composed by Justin Prabhakaran, with lyrics by Kutti Revathi.

“This is not a film against men,” said Malini, “This is a film against patriarchy.”

Ladies And Gentlewoman had won the Best Documentary Award at the Norway Tamil Festival and the Chennai Rainbow Film Festival.

Aandal Controversy: Vairamuthu’s Detractors Are ‘Missing The Wood For The Trees’, Says Writer Indira Parthasarathy

The latest in the much-spoken about subject – the denigration of Aandal by lyricist Vairamuthu – is, unsurprisingly, a WhatsApp forward: It contains an image of Vairamuthu followed by a note.

The ‘note’ quotes Vairamuthu’s son, Madhan Karky, as allegedly confessing that his father was coerced by ‘Christian missionaries’ and ‘Dravidian Islamist terrorist organisations’ to call Aandal a ‘dasi’, and goes on to apologise to ‘Hindu friends’ about the episode.

Madhan Karky though, would have none of it:

Amidst all this back and forth, Tamil writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner Indira Parthasarathy, in a blog post titled ‘Aandalum Asinga Arasiyalum’, has written that the controversy surrounding Vairamuthu’s speech about the 7th Century poetess Aandal – also a well-loved deity among the Vaishnavite sect – is completely unnecessary. “There’s a saying in English that goes ‘missing the wood for the trees’; the arguments over Vairamuthu’s speech is something similar,” he said.

“While we can argue that Vairamuthu was wrong in his facts about Aandal, one cannot say that he was being offensive. It’s something I don’t understand; how can Vairamuthu’s speech, which quoted a researcher as writing that Aandal belongs to the Devadasi community, be considered a dishonour to Aandal? During the period of the Chozhas and Pallavas, Devadasis were held in high esteem and treated on par with the priests – this has been known through several stone carvings from that period.

During the Sangam period, the Panars, Viraliyars and Kootthars were at the top of societal hierarchy – this is known through various songs from that period. Their low status right now points more towards the degeneration of society, than that of the particular community. This kind of criticism – that someone dishonoured Aandal by calling her a Devadasi – only turns the mirror on ourselves.

Aandal was a wonderful poet. Among the 12 Azhwars, she enjoys the same status as Nammazhwar in Vaishnavism. Let’s not taint her identity for short term political gains.”

Earlier, recently-deceased Tamil writer and journalist Gnani Sankaran, had questioned the uproar over Vairamuthu’s speech in a video. Declaring that there was never certain proof that the poet had actually lived, and that she could have well been a figment of Periazhwar’s (her adoptive father) imagination, Gnani said, among other things, that Aandal, a 15-year-old girl couldn’t have authored Naachiyar Thirumozhi, a set of verses that brim with sexual desire and longing.

He also slammed the name-calling that both pro-Vairamuthu and anti-Vairamuthu groups indulged in, blamed the Sangh Parivar and BJP for trying to polarise people into Hindu and non-Hindu groups, and finally, reiterated that there were bigger issues that need importance.

Watch the video here:

*****

‘Dravidian Identity Must Belong To Whole Of South, Not Just The Tamils’: Kamal Haasan In His Weekly Column

Kamal Haasan, in his column for Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan, wrote about the necessity to share the Tamil Dravidian identity with the rest of South India. “Some hate Dravidian ideology, others swear by it. I say, both can be criticised. Dravidam isn’t something that belongs just to Tamil Nadu, but belongs to the whole country. South India, especially, must unite under a Dravidian identity. It must be celebrated all over the South. That’s how we can be heard in Delhi,” he wrote.

“Chandrababu Naidu [CM of Andhra Pradhesh], Pinarayi Vijayan [CM of Kerala], Chandrasekhar Rao [CM of Telangana], Siddaramaiah [CM of Karnataka] are all Dravidians. Tamilians must not be possessive of their Dravidian identity, they must instead, happily share it with people of other languages. I’m not saying we must dilute our languages and cultures and become one; we must observe what Jawaharlal Nehru called ‘unity in diversity’. This is my opinion.”

Haasan began his column by explaining the ‘journey’ he’s about to undertake from February 21. “I consider my journey towards working for the society a duty, and not an opportunity. The first step towards this is to meet people. This is not to mobilise support or public opinion, nor is it to glamorise my party – it’s merely my learning. My kalvi,” he said.

Writing that he will start his journey from late President APJ Abdul Kalam’s house in Rameswaram, Kamal added, “You may ask what I’m going to do there; Kalam wanted to leave behind a good state, a flourishing Tamil Nadu, that’s my intention as well. I’m not here just to criticise. I’m here to get down and work.”

“I work for the people, that’s my identity,” he declared. “I have a part in the mistakes that people make, likewise, I want to have a share in their victories too. The thought that ‘this is my country and I need to protect it’ must not be mine alone. Here, the leader must not just show the way, he has to walk the path himself. Democracy is when you feel you are working towards progress as a whole country. I am going to meet those heroes who would help me.”

Kamal then wrote about the grievances that he’d heard regarding the ineffective use of taxpayers’ money from Tamil Nadu. “Maharashtra stands first in paying tax. Tamil Nadu comes second. There have been complaints that the tax collected from the state is used to develop the North.” Likening the situation to that of a ‘joint family’, the aspiring politician said: “A brother can provide for his unemployed siblings, but one mustn’t take the provider for granted. I suspect that the collected money isn’t being effectively put to use.”

The actor ended the column with: “Is this an attempt to grab the rule, some will ask. How can a single person do that? It’s the people’s government. Their rule. In order to do so, I would have to uplift them first, and remind them of the duties that lay ahead. This journey is my effort towards that. Let’s join hands, we’ll meet in the field.”

Thaana Serndha Koottam Review: Vignesh ShivN’s Dialogues Shine In This Suriya Starrer

In Thaana Serndha Koottam, Suriya gets dialogues tailored to fit. Like the ones that are written for mass heroes who take to the big screen to settle scores. Or mostly, to pander to a fan base that revels in this reinforced imaging of their hero. Fiery lines characterise the actor, tempered with just the right amount of passion to send the fans into a frenzy. Somewhere, in a theatre of choice, the actor would perhaps soak in (do actors even do that these days?) this validation to self. What better way to know if you are doing it right with the masses (the critics be damned)?

Over the years, ‘mass’ is a word that I’ve come to love – completely homegrown, it would be interesting to trace the etymology of it especially within the context that it’s often employed. ‘Mass’ perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the streets; ‘massy’, the adjective, apart from referring to a heavyweight, would mean something with a distinct local flavour, with the potential to appeal to all classes. And thus, actors, heroes develop identities based on their ‘massy metre’. Suriya, perhaps, is someplace mid-scale. He can play the sophisticate if he wants to, quite like Ajith, and also has a massive female following; he can do a Perazhagan and Pithamagan with relative ease, work up enough aggression as the cop Durai Singham, and also convincingly play a romantic.

In Thaana Serndha Koottam, Suriya’s (Iniyan) height is made mention of. Brave, I think. Until, it becomes material for a punchy one-liner – in the earlier scene, Suriya is derided for not being tall and so, towards the end, director Vignesh ShiVn plays on ‘uyaram‘ and ‘uyarvu‘: You do not have to grow in height, he writes, you need to grow in stature. And quick as a thought, the camera dips, and perhaps for the first time in the entire film, low-angle shots make an appearance. Suriya towers over everyone else.

Suriya also picks up some street flavour in TSK, becomes a Robin Hood who has been wronged. There are the big, bad bureaucrats, the corrupt system, the works. But what makes TSK entertaining is Vignesh ShivN’s deft hand, deliberately adding a touch of humour in the mix. Consider this: Thambi Ramiah, who works as an office help at the CBI nurtures ambitions of having his son strut around as an officer. Entering the CBI though, requires monetary clout. Suriya comes back home after having been insulted at the interview. Why bother now, the interviewer had said, when your father dies, you’ll get his job. Thambi Ramiah suspects as much, locks himself up in a room. Suriya frantically bangs on the door assuming the worst when his father walks out, coolly sizes his son up, and says: “Unaku velai kidaikalena naan edhuku savanum [Why must I die if you can’t find work]? It’s a hilarious moment; the director nimbly steers clear of messy emotions.

In TSK, Suriya, Ramya Krishnan, Senthil – a motley bunch – play pretend-CBI. They raid the rich and curiously, just supplement their needs. Keerthy Suresh plays a spunky Brahmin woman (ShivN’s dialogues are quite funny in places) who falls in love with Suriya, and that’s his cue to call her ‘mami’. Somehow, that kind of casteism – and related slurs – are looked upon with an indulgent eye, as is the blatant name-calling and portrayal of said community. At every opportunity, Suriya emphasises the title – “Idhu thaana serndha kootam” – even though the opposite is true sometimes. Karthik Muthuraman appears as the CBI officer, whom everyone fears, and the climax belongs to Suriya and him – but it’s quite easy to guess who would emerge the winner.

*****

The Thaana Serndha Kootam review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Bharathiraja Defends Vairamuthu, Attacks BJP Leader H Raja For His Remarks On The Poet

Bharathiraja, in a strongly-worded statement released last evening, came out in support of ‘Kavirperarasu’ Vairamuthu who drew criticism for calling Andal a ‘devadasi’ during a speech at the Srivilliputhur temple last week.

In the press release, Bharathiraja, lamenting the lack of an individual’s right to freedom of expression, went on to list Vairamuthu’s achievements as a poet, his awards, and his works – ‘Kallikaattu Ithihasam’ and ‘Karuvachi  Kaaviyam’ – which he called a layman’s ‘irattai-k-kaappiyam’ [twin epics]. “How can Vairamuthu, who made Tamil accessible to the common man, be spoken of in such offensive language? An artiste can air his views or quote a reference, but that cannot be dissected and criticised word-by-word.”

Addressing H Raja in the singular (he had earlier condemned Vairamuthi on Twitter), Bharathiraja called the BJP leader’s criticism ‘inelegant’, and added that the poet had only tried to bring Andal to the masses through his essay titled ‘Tamizhai Andal’. “Understand that the ‘Tiruppavai’ [a set of 30 hymns composed by Andal] wasn’t written in Sanskrit, it was written in Tamil,” he said, adding, “Can you write like Vairamuthu? Can you compose a song to rouse the masses? Don’t try to destroy him.”

Incidentally, today is the 28th day of Margazhi in the Tamil calendar – the month during which Andal is said to have sung the 30 paasurams [hymns] – one on each day – to express her desire and love for Govinda. In the 28th hymn, Andal beseeches Govinda to forgive her for her indiscretions.

All in evocative poetry:

“கறவைகள் பின் சென்று கானம் சேர்ந்து உண்போம்

அறிவு ஒன்றும் இல்லாத ஆய்க் குலத்து உந்தன்னைப்
பிறவி பெறுந்தனைப் புண்ணியம் யாம் உடையோம்
குறை ஒன்றும் இல்லாத கோவிந்தா உந்தன்னோடு
உறவேல் நமக்கு இங்கு ஒழிக்க ஒழியாது
அறியாத பிள்ளைகளோம் அன்பினால் உந்தன்னை
சிறு பேர் அழைத்தனமும் சீறி அருளாதே
இறைவா நீ தாராய் பறையேலோர் எம்பாவாய்”

*****

Reality Check: Premkumar Chandran On The Tale That Sparked The Hit Comedy ‘Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom’

It’s often a germ of an idea that sparks a creative work. The crucial ‘one-liner’ that directors often develop a script from – either inspired, or drawn from real life, like the recent Theeran Adhigaram Ondru, which was based on a true incident of crime that happened in Tamil Nadu – become layered over the course of filmmaking. The climaxes become dramatic, the chase spills over just so, and humour is often prone to hyperbole.

One such film – which was based on a real-life event – eventually becoming a critical and commercial success, was Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, a 2012 comedy that revolved around a man who loses his memory, days before his wedding.

Cinematographer-turned-director Premkumar Chandran, whose brush with memory loss inspired the film, recalls the events that led to its making and the cinematic liberties that turned it into a crowd-pleaser. 

It was early 2010 when cinematographer Premkumar Chandran had a visitor at home. It was a friend of his; and unusually so, with a bound script in hand. Balaji Tharaneetharan, a batch-mate from his DFTech days at MGR Government Film and Television Training Institute, wanted to talk about an idea that he had. It was for a film, not a comedy of errors in essence, but a madcap tale inspired by reality – their reality – just as weird and wonderful.

Premkumar only vaguely remembered being a part of it. He’d been married for a few of years then, and had a two-year-old daughter, Veda. The script’s characters bore the names of people he knew intimately. His friends – Bugs, Bhaji, Saras – were all down there in print, in Balaji’s neat writing, as was Prem’s wife, Dhanalakshmi. The event described in the script though, eluded him as only memories can. It narrated an incident that seemed to have occurred right before his wedding: When he got hurt on the head while playing cricket. To Premkumar, a cast away pouch at home, a toilet kit carrying the name of the hospital was the only relic from the time. “I would often wonder who’d been to Ramachandra and why it was lying around here,” he laughs.

The original foursome: [From left: Premkumar, Bugs aka Bagavathy Perumal, Balaji Tharaneetharan, Saras TK]
A couple of years later, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom (2012), about a bunch of friends, one of whom loses his memory after falling while playing cricket, released to great reviews. The critics loved the film, and the audiences did all they could to support it. It was what they called a ‘runaway success’. A textbook version of it.  Indeed, for a film with new actors (Bugs played himself) and crew, made on a budget of less than Rs 1 crore, and sold for just a small margin of profit, it made Rs 12 crores at the box office. And, Premkumar was its pivot; the guy who loses his memory a few days before his wedding, his friends having to scramble an alibi – sometimes with the bride herself – to make up for lapses in his behaviour. It made for eventful, larger-than-life comedy, some nice escapist entertainment – no-questions-asked.

NKPK was shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark II, a handheld digital SLR still camera

In NKPK, the period of Prem’s memory loss was tweaked for a merrier adaptation, but the cinematographer – who’s now directing a film with Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha in the lead – assures us that he was well and conscious through his real wedding.

“The first half of the movie is what that happened in real life,” he says when we talk cinematic liberties, “it happened almost 10 days before my wedding, not two as is shown in the movie. My friends were worried, they couldn’t take me home; they had to lie to my parents and my wife (then fiancée). She found it strange because I would talk to her even when I was busy with work.” Premkumar was assistant cinematographer then, on the sets of Vaaranam Aayiram. “They had come up with crazy excuses, even told her that my phone had run out of charge.”

Vijay Sethupathi, the actor who played Premkumar in NKPK, had just gained a footing in the industry. After essaying the lead role in Thenmaerku Paruva Kaatru in 2011, Sethupathi’s 2012 movies also included Karthik Subbaraj’s Pizza – yet another low budget film that was received well. “He was well-built and muscular then,” says Premkumar, “so he had to lose a few kilos to play me.” The actor, Premkumar declares, was spontaneous, breezy and organically worked in some of his mannerisms into the character. “I would pet almost every stray dog on the road, randomly practice bowling with pebbles on the road… he wove all of that into the Prem that you’d seen on screen. People felt like they were watching me on screen.”

A dialogue of Sethupathi’s, a now famous refrain which occurs through the movie, wasn’t inspired script work. Sethupathi begins with an innocuous ‘Ennachu [What happened]?’ followed by a replay of the incident, and an almost medical explanation for his condition.

“My friends told me later that I was repeating those lines all through the night,” recalls Prem, “I grew up near a medical college in Thanjavur, our neighbours were all employees at the college and I would often help one who worked as an organ harvester.” Prem would help harvest hearts, intestines and brains, dunk them in formaldehyde. “I wasn’t squeamish or scared. Once, when we were harvesting a brain, I heard about its physical and cognitive features; the parts that control eyesight, memory, conscience… it’s strange, it was something I thought I’d forgotten, but it’d been there all the while, and surfaced at the time when I couldn’t remember much else.”

*****

The house that was also featured in Vinnaithandi Varuvaya; in NKPK, it functioned as Bugs’s residence

Premkumar did not forget his bride, of course – not during the wedding, anyway. An instance in the film involving the theft of his bike was steeped in reality as well. “I got back my stolen bike on the day of the reception. I hadn’t shaved or gotten a haircut when I went to collect it from the Perambur police station. The gang that had stolen my bike had used it during other heists. The police initially mistook me for one of them and began questioning me. Only when they opened my bag and found invitations did they believed what I told them.”

Something else had happened on the day in 2010 when Balaji Tharaneetharan brought home his script. Premkumar’s wife of four years got to know about her husband’s brush with memory loss, so did his parents. “My mother didn’t like the film when it released,” Prem says, “She thought I was being made fun of. She had gone home and cried, probably the only person who’d cried after a watching a comedy.”

“But nothing was normal about NKPK,” laughs Premkumar. “It was the first movie for the director, producer and many people acting in it. The introduction of the heroine would happen only towards the end. There were no songs, and all four characters were leads. And since there were so many leads, the budget naturally came down.” And, as it was inspired by real life, the team decided to shoot it on a handheld camera rather than a tripod-mounted one.

“We were struck by the fact that none of the real life videos that we see are perfectly-shot. News footages and home videos would all be shaky, blurred in some places, not perfectly positioned. So we chose a 5D [Canon EOS 5D Mark, a digital SLR still camera] camera. Also, since we knew we cannot exceed Rs 1 crore, we had to do some reverse thinking.”

Premkumar’s home in NKPK, a location in North Madras

The sets were minimal. “My house in the film was a place in North Madras – to get that old Madras look; Bugs’s home was the one featured in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaya as Simbu’s house. We rented a mandapam in Thanjavur to shoot the wedding scenes, but in hindsight, realised there wouldn’t have been much of a difference had we shot it in Chennai.” Artistes were told to memorise entire lines; “So even if we had to shoot a different scene because of weather or other reasons, they needed only 10 minutes of prep.” The film was dialogue-heavy, with several ‘single’ shots, or ones that featured conversations. In the end, the shoot was wrapped up at a little over Rs 75 lakhs. “We sold it only for a small margin of profit, but it earned Rs 12 crores in the State.

It was weirdly successful, says Premkumar, “Tell me, which producer would be okay with a film that began with the line ‘Nerame seriyilla…’”

******

In December 2015, Premkumar, who was stranded at home like the rest of the Chennai population, thanks to the incessant rain and the subsequent floods, wrote the script for 96 – amid bleak weather and power-cuts. “The title refers to the year in which a class had graduated – in this case, it is the Class 12 batch of 1996. The film focusses on the present lives of those characters, switching between 1996 and 2016.” It’s a romance, says Premkumar, “Not a romantic comedy. It explores the characteristics of romance in that decade. The 90s love stories had a very Idhayam quality to them…”

96 stars Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha in the lead. “Sethupathi did not warm up to it initially; probably thought it was a rehashed Korean script, but he was quite impressed when he got to know that it was my own. He wanted me to direct it.”

Calling Trisha a superstar, Premkumar says he was quite nervous about their meeting. “It’s easier to narrate to a hero than a heroine,” he smiles, “She was filming Kodi at that time, and agreed to meet me for a couple of hours. Namakku romba bayam [I was quite nervous], but she liked it as the script gives equal importance to both leads.”

The final schedule of 96 is set to go on floors next month, and the team is looking to release the film a few months later.

*****

The Premkumar Chandran interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Photos: Premkumar’s Facebook page

Balloon Review: An Uninspiring Story With All The Tropes Of Horror Genre

Perhaps the biggest ever mystery that a horror film can create (or, answer) is this: Why do the characters in any tale of horror feel the urge to flirt with the supernatural? Why do they choose to confront it rather than say, exhibit normal human tendencies? Like, running the hell away from a haunted house, for instance?

In Balloon, Jai, who wants to make a horror film, stays well within the perimeter even after there are obvious hints that the place is haunted. During a particular scene, when he hears strange rattling noises in the middle of the night and notices the front door ajar, he picks up a club and ventures outside.

Who does that, really? A sane person would whip out their phone and dial 100. Or, freeze. The latter, of course, is more appropriate behavior. But it is cinema and so, there are braver, larger-than-life characters who make all the right noises that people in life-threatening situations do, but choose to investigate the proceedings instead of pouring themselves a stiff drink and scooting right out of there. It’s perhaps more inhuman than the vengeful spirits themselves.

Granted, all that make for thrilling prose, especially when set to a thumping score. Throw in some scare tactics, a few laughs (as is the trend these days), and you have a recipe for a decent entertainer. Who minds the overtly made-up apparition with grey-tinted lenses and token scratches? The audience certainly doesn’t. They love it and all the other non-apparitions that make themselves known when appropriate. The kind that are accompanied by a low, pounding rhythm, but turn out to be human, after all.

Balloon credits its inspiration to The Conjuring, IT and other movies of its ilk – and rightly borrows from all of them. There’s nothing great by way of story. Jeeva (Jai) and Jacqueline (Anjali), along with a few friends move to Ooty for some fodder for a horror movie that Jeeva wants to make. Perhaps the only original element in the script is the eponymous balloon, which, accompanied by an eerily melodious score, does elicit interest. But the feeling is quickly dispelled when you know that the balloon would eventually spiral down the hole that most horrors get sucked into: A haunted house, a few murders, a possessed child, a possessed adult, a tragic backstory, revenge, and finally, an exorcism. The only relief in the starkly mundane proceedings comes by way of Yogi Babu who relentlessly tries one quip after another. Some work, some don’t, but the effort is quite moving, nevertheless.

*****

The Balloon review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Velaikkaran & Sakka Podu Podu Raja: Two Films Of Aspiring Heroes, One Clever Strategy, Zero Gender Awareness

Sivakarthikeyan and Santhanam set foot in Tamil cinema at different times – the former in 2012, and the latter almost a decade earlier – at the moment though, both are feverishly trying to be the next star of the masses, each channeling his own brand of heroics.

It’s a weekend of strange coincidences. The movies of two male actors, who were ‘discovered’ through their performances on television – the same Tamil channel, to be precise – have hit theatres. On the surface, there’s nothing very dissimilar about their offerings; Sivakarthikeyan and Santhanam, who have had a few solo movies to their credit, aspire yet again to the one ideal that tells the world that you have arrived in cinema: Turning a hero. Of course, a ‘hero’ is somewhat of a stand-in for the ‘lead’ in this part of the world, but that subtle distinction can be, and is often overlooked. Indeed, the word has its own definition in the dictionary of Indian cinema: Someone who can act, dance and romance reasonably well, and has something of a loyal fanbase rooting for him.

Turning hero can be a tedious affair though, especially if there’s some image-shedding to do. Sivakarthikeyan, whose earlier film was the sorry Remo, and who has only focused on himself in the past, with scripts built around romance and the like, reaches out to the society in Velaikkaran. He wants to touch lives, bask in the kind of instant adulation that older heroes receive. And for that, he needs a socially relevant theme; what better way to be the conscious hero?

In Velaikkaran that begins with a rather poor, but unsurprising take on feminism (doesn’t quite apply to women with class and caste privileges, Sivakarthikeyan says to general applause), the actor makes himself more likeable. Of course, his views on gender and women don’t seem to have altered much, but he visibly grows taller, addressing the issues of the slum he belongs to, and later, taking down multinationals and consumerism in general. It’s all quite clever when you think about it. But ironically, for a movie that berates big brands for toying with middle-class sentiments and making them their target, it seems to have similar thoughts, too. It employs Arivu (Sivakarthikeyan) as some kind of a savior of the masses – from falling prey to their own need for constant material validation. So just like that, using a sales pitch and the food industry to create a situation – which, let’s face it, is perhaps not unlike reality (we’re talking adulteration in food) – Sivakarthikeyan slowly veers towards that comfortable zone of …trust (?) and familiarity. He gets down and dirty, becomes one among the people, then their voice, and later, rides on their shoulders. It’s a gradual well thought-out transformation, especially when pitted against Fahadh Faasil who stars as the suave, well-dressed villain of the piece.

And, in a much rehashed Tamil dream of sorts – one that is sure to win hearts – Arivu romances a woman from a social setting more sophisticated than his own; obviously Nayanthara as Mrinalini doesn’t mind that Arivu isn’t quite inclined towards questioning gender inequality as she is. Mrinalini faces brickbats for stating on television that women can drink and make merry just the way a man can. And, when a shot of those detestable memes and harassers is shown, the theatre descends into an uneasy silence. It’s of course, a sign of hope. But soon enough, Arivu – who also runs a community radio in his slum – adds to the slander. Moral outrage, you see. Then, clarifications follow; it is learnt that Mrinalini’s interview was actually edited out of context; she obviously didn’t mean the things she said. Arivu softens; this is a girl he can like, after all.

A movie that showcases the ills of rabid consumerism needs a bleak social setting – and that interwoven with Sivakarthikeyan’s rustic dance moves and a street flavoured accent support Velaikkaran ably. The only aberration – the skewed interpretation of women’s liberation and treatment aside – is a flamboyant duet featuring Nayanthara in elaborate gowns and Sivakarthikeyan in sharp suits. It just doesn’t belong.

*****

For comedians, turning a hero is all the more arduous – not only do they have to convince the audience of their brawn, chivalry, romantic abilities and associated pressure points (How to woo a woman? Hint: Not with a slap), but they also need to channel something of their previous avatar; the skill they know they are good at. Because, what if all else fails?

That quandary was evident in the films that attempted to turn Vadivelu into a hero. Apart from the successful Imsai Arasan 23rd Pulikesi, Indralohathil Na Azhagapppan, Tenali and Eli were forgettable at best. Goundamani’s 49 0 and Vivek’s Naan Thaan Bala and Palakkaatu Madhavan weren’t much talked about either. Sakka Podu Podu Raja is Santhanam’s fourth attempt at what has now become the cinematic equivalent of the middle class Indian society’s aspirations to produce an IIT-ian. Perhaps one can look kindly at Santhanam if not for his indulgence in some brash tactics in the path to heroism. It’s not, after all, a crime to want to become one.

But if Sivakarthikeyan chose a serious setting that would endear him to the masses, and also put his dancing skills to good use, Santhanam’s Sakka Podu… indulges in frivolity. It flows more like a television soap; characters flit in and out of the frames, fully decked up, a dramatic tale to tell. To the director’s credit though, he tries to tie it all together. But, how would you rate a premise that solely derives energy from its shrew-taming tactics and overblown comical moments? The audience laughs, of course – even as Santhanam – or Santa as he’s known in the movie – completes his sentences. And, knowing this perhaps, almost every dialogue that he spouts is an attempt at comedy.

In the best coup of all aspiring heroes though, something that was not present even in Sivakarthikeyan’s elaborate campaign, Santhanam has Vivek in a supporting role deferring to him. Vivek lets Santhanam outwit him; a validation that only top-billed heroes were entitled to until now.

*****

Aruvi Review: A Moving Portrait Of A Young Woman Whose Life Is Extraordinary & Ordinary All At Once

*Contains spoilers

What Aruvi is, apart from being a collection of poignant, musical montages (a brilliant score by Bindhu Malini and Vedanth Bharadwaj), is quite simply the tale of a girl, a child-woman, who, as she grows out of her idyllic childhood in the countryside, discovers the darker aspects of a society so rigidly governed by and chained to its beliefs that it becomes excruciating to breathe. The vignettes that the film beams trace the early years of the protagonist’s life, babyhood through young adulthood; her likes, her loves and even mundane little things that would, if not invoke a memory, be a reminder of everything that is belatedly charming: The rustic quality of life without technology, for instance, or the carefree innocence of childhood.

Aruvi, quite like her name, is a wild thing; her emotions are fierce, rather like a roaring waterfall or a stormy mountain stream that just cannot contain its flow. She’s beautiful, intense and filled with rage that stems from a deep, abiding sorrow (Aditi Balan is wonderful all through). Early in Aruvi, a rush of images narrate her adolescence; the scenes – some potent, some delightfully ordinary – have powerful resonance. In one instance, Aruvi, at someone’s direction, sullenly tucks her bra strap inside her clothes, and in another, she playfully tells a classmate off for asking to borrow a sanitary napkin – everyday intimate occurrences that are rarely portrayed on screen, much less in the almost precise fashion that they tend to happen in reality. It gets personal, as close to a woman’s psyche as it can, and that’s a great thing for an industry that makes much of showcasing male virility and the various facets of a man’s life, but spends little to less effort trying to understand the other genders. Aruvi though, does just that. Stray utterances about sanitary napkins or bra straps may not be path-breaking, but they nod at, and acknowledge the lives of women in a society riddled with prudes to whom the sight of a bra wire is the most offensive thing ever – or in more daily occurrences, the time when that telltale wetness between legs is met with exasperation for your stash of napkins is almost down to reserve.

Aruvi evolves over the course of two hours, she grows on screen, through carefully-orchestrated sequences at first that seek to establish a powerful connection, and later, in rapid, but lingering imagery that accurately paints the tribulations of a young girl having a foot in adulthood and the other firmly in the familiar comforts of her parental world, dithering, watching.

It isn’t all that bleak, this portrait. The protagonist is representative of every millennial who happily trudged through the 90s, cycling to and from school amid slambooks, compasses and hushed talk about sex, entered adolescence just in time for cellphones and the Internet, and later discovered the appeal of raucous conversations at coffee shops. In some ways, Aruvi is quite reminiscent of Maanagaram, in which a youth from the districts arrives in the big, bad city to eke out a living, finds himself displeased with its middling ideals, only to later embrace it as it his own.

Aruvi’s Aruvi though, is raised in a family that dotes on her, a father who attends to her every whim, a brother whom she adores, and in a social milieu that, quite like the young girl herself, dares to dream beyond its means, and yet, finds itself restrained by obsolete social constructs. So much so that trying to shatter the inertia only results in familial discord, in a desperate bid to adhere to what is recognised as normal.

What’s perhaps brilliant about the movie is the fact that it establishes and breaks such conventions in one fell swoop. When Aruvi and her family encounter a dire diagnosis, she’s effectively ostracised; the caring parents turn monsters, and as she takes refuge in a shelter, a lovely transgender person becomes her sole companion. It’s beautiful this relationship; Emily and Aruvi share a space, and a life far removed from the reality of Aruvi’s society – and which, if not for the presence of the other, would have been infinitely dull. The treatment of Emily is one of the best – and the most respectable – in recent cinema; there isn’t much emphasis on her gender, none of those abominable lapses that Tamil cinema slips into while representing them. During one instance, Aruvi and Emily knock on the doors of a TV channel to feature in its reality talk show; the producers don’t quite take note until Emily saucily uses her gender to gain them entry, she knows they can’t quite resist a… sensational tale when they hear one.

Most of the film’s poignant montages are reserved for the depiction of people diagnosed HIV positive, and to do that, it establishes a rather moving personal narrative – but not without some organic humour. It almost makes one forgive the script’s penchant for drama towards the end, which arrives as a surprise for not even during the protagonist’s most vulnerable phases does it paint a weak portrait of her.

Aruvi also questions those divisive emotions that course through a society’s fabric – when gender-consciousness and feminism become mostly a thing of convenience, or is inexplicably tied to one’s personal identity. One of the best moments in the film – apart from when the young woman finds love (oh, she does) – is when she’s sitting on the couch of the talk show. Aruvi faces her rapists who continue to deny the charges against them as only perpetrators can, looks each of them in the eye, and then tells the sets at large that she’s HIV positive. The men are suddenly struck dumb. And, a few paces to left, behind the camera, the producer of the show, tellingly, comically quivers in fright. Because, oh well.

*****

The Aruvi review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Maayavan Review: CV Kumar’s Engaging Directorial Debut Mirrors His Production Ventures

Maayavan is delightful just for one reason: It is filled with those lovely little things that would hearten anyone looking to remove themselves from reality. I don’t want to be here, you say, and CV Kumar buys you a ticket out of there. Brutal murders, cops on a trail, future-science bordering on fiction, a rogue scientist… CV Kumar’s directorial debut – quite like his production ventures – deals with everything out of the ordinary. And, what a relief that is. No in-your-face heroics, no dreary sentimentality, no songs; just a tale that derives inspiration from Tamil novels of times past.

The movie opens in the year 2037; a man lays in bed, hooked to wires, a retro tune playing in the background as Sundeep Kishan waits on him. Cut to 2017; a cop (Sundeep as Kumaran) is witness to a series of murders that are eerily similar in nature despite the killers having died themselves. Further investigation leads to an errant neuro-scientist who no longer seems to be alive according to records, but is actually living somewhere.

If anything, Maayavan is engrossing. At one point, you begin to wonder if these thrillers would find something other than stray cigarette butts to base their investigations on, but here, while the stub does point to the identity, it isn’t propped up to be some kind of conclusive proof. The stub, in fact, throws up more questions, and opens up other avenues of thought.

Lavanya Tripathi’s character though, is a little baffling. In the role of a psychologist who diagnoses Kumaran with PTSD, she stalks him through the movie, and ends up in the most unlikely places in the name of patient care. When Kumaran wonders, much like we do if she has other clients to attend to at all, there’s absolute nonchalance. Some require special care, she shrugs. Tripathi literally hunts him down to his hideouts, armed with an injection that she’s sure he would need. Kumaran questions her credentials at their meeting, but that doesn’t quite deter her.

Maayavan’s tale revolves around a neuro-scientist who succeeds at his clandestine project – that of duplicating and digitising his conscience and living through several people after death. CV Kumar is careful to eliminate assumptions that the theory is pure fantasy; he quotes several Silicon Valley billionaires who have invested in life-prolonging technology – from cryopreservation and regenerative sciences to other bio-tech projects that aim to increase human life-span. A Stephen Hawking quote too – something which he’s reported to have said at the 2013 Cambridge Film Festival – is featured. “I think the brain is like a program in the mind,” the physicist had said, “so, it is theoretically possible to copy the brain onto a computer so as to provide a form of life after death.”

The film moves at a frenetic pace, barring a few contrived elements. When the scientist’s wife, who is apparently in a coma, draws concentric circles by way of directing the cops to her husband’s den, Kumaran miraculously arrives at a clear interpretation. The circles could mean a well, he declares decidedly. And soon enough, a state-of-the-art lab is found within a pseudo well.

For a risqué theme that could well give you the chills, and does at some point, Ghibran’s music could have well taken it to town. But, it doesn’t creep up on you as thrillers are required to do, it isn’t pacy enough, and doesn’t invoke enough horror in the proceedings. Maayavan wanted mood, a subdued palette, subtle inflections in voice, and a darker, greyer environment in place of brightly-lit labs with token liquids of assorted colour. Not quite Frankenstein, but a psycho-thriller with the temperament of a psycho-thriller.

*****

The Maayavan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Richie Review: This Film Makes A Poster Boy Out Of Nivin Pauly For The Tamil Audience

Richie makes a poster boy out of Nivin Pauly for the Tamil audience. Nivin, with his fine set of teeth and accented Tamil may take some warming up to, and serves as a kind of stark reminder that there’s a world of difference watching him in a Malayalam film where he doesn’t have to constantly chew paan (and spit, spit spit) to make up for lapses in lip-sync. But he does have an imposing screen image; the rugged look comes in handy when he has to punch someone’s nose in – an act that he’s engaged in almost all the time. The movie gives him a distinct swagger, too.

Richie is the seemingly irreverent bad boy born to a pastor (Prakash Raj). A brutal past and an absent parent later, he enlists in the service of a local gangster (GK Reddy).

Richie, a remake of the Kannada movie Ulidavaru Kandanthe, is presented as a collection of vignettes about an ostensibly fascinating personality. When the movie begins, Shraddha Srinath, in the role of a journalist, attempts to piece together a story about him – an echo from the past. As several people present their memories – little chapters unto themselves with pulpy bookends – there’s almost a crescendo effect. But, Richie – apart from eliciting hoots and whistles (something potently masculine about a craggy beard) – fails to make us care. He embarks on this cycle of systemic abuse, violent behaviour and sudden spurts of kindness, almost as if the director wants to weave in layer upon layer of complexity. The oddball with a sad past, who wreaks vengeance on the unsuspecting world, there isn’t enough compulsion to believe in or sympathise with Richie.

It seems to be the season of the good-looking, bearded misfits though. Arjun Reddy’s Arjun Reddy may not perhaps have had a past to speak of for his present was all too consuming with general assholery, but Richie’s Richie has a misunderstood childhood as well. And that’s why, we are repeatedly told, with flashbacks in sepia lest we forget, he kills and blunders about and does the things he does. Despite the obvious nudges that the script throws though, there’s barely any feeling towards him. He remains a distant albeit striking speck on screen, someone whose swagger is a lot more noticeable – and appreciable – than what he tries to breathe life into. And when he dances – boy, is he good at it – it’s a delight to watch. The music just sways with him.

What Vikram Vedha – a recent movie that had successfully made a hero out of its antagonist (Vijay Sethupathi) – had done to great effect, was to introduce another character (Madhavan) – not entirely dissimilar, but just with a superficially different personality. The hero, white on the outside, had progressed towards distinctly greyer areas, while the ‘villain’ also hit the same spot from the other end of the spectrum. In Richie though, the other guy (Raj Bharath), whom the script wants you to hate, invokes the same degree of dispassion as the eponymous lead. Other character threads – mildly interesting ones played by Natarajan Subramanian, Kumaravel and Lakshmi Priya – are devoted much time to, but almost seem disconnected from the star vehicle that seems to have been especially tailored to fit Nivin Pauly. Nivin as Richie though, leaves us feeling ambivalent at best.

*****

The Richie review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Kodi Veeran Review: Yet Another Film That Tries To Make A Hero Out Of M Sasikumar

It’s hard not to admire Sasikumar in Kodi Veeran. Granted, it’s the same old rural landscape, veecharuvas drawn at the drop of a hat, and a bevy of women in heavy jewellery, but Sasikumar is set in his mission, and is unabashed about it.

When Kodi Veeran begins – named after the hero, needless to say – Sasikumar’s difficult childhood is in sharp focus. Adulterous father, suicidal mother, a baby sister whom he raises… and just as the tear-jerker over the title credits ends, he’s a grown man. Someone whom the village worships, almost like a deity. The transformation is a little baffling; but Sasikumar embraces it like only he can. Walking on hot coals with a baby on your back cannot be without merit, after all. And thus, Kodi Veeran storms in on the screen, with an opening that would be the envy of any mainstream hero. The camera lovingly zooms in on his profile and documents every step, if it misses, the score – some celebratory rural notes – quickly reins the attention back in. And, Sasi basks in it. He tosses his head in tune with the music, walks the walk, speaks lines that are meant to inspire dread, and watches as the rest of the cast dances around him in adulation. His sister adores him, the village-folk worship him, and the woman he would like to marry has a locket made – with his likeness. There’s no trace of irony in these proceedings. Director Muthiah’s filmmaking is as earnest as his lead’s intent to turn into a man of the masses. The tale that the director weaves solely caters to this …whim.

Kodiv Veeran sets out to find a bridegroom for his sister, but sister has designs on another. She’s the selfless sibling that adores her brother, so she makes a pact with his ladylove to wed her brother. The convolution doesn’t quite end there as another pair of siblings – a rival one – enters the fray. They want all of them dead, but Kodi Veeran just cannot lose even if he wants to. And thus, amidst some vivid rural imagery, the camera, the score, and the crew conspire to lead Kodi Veeran to victory. They do so with gusto and some single-minded devotion that is surely worthy of praise.

And, if not for the overdrawn, exaggerated sequences with tedious domestic squabbles that almost serialises it, Kodi Veeran could have well been a fun experiment – a kind of satire which draws on scripts that seek to make heroes out of its leads. But as always with movies of its ilk, Kodi Veeran is intense, almost humor-less in its quest to stardom.

*****

The Kodi Veeran review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Indrajith Review: Honest Intent But Evokes Memories Of 90s Cinema & Not In A Good Way

If there is a defining moment in Indrajith – one that would sum up the whole movie, story, aesthetics, casting and all – it is this: Gautham Karthik, as the eponymous Indrajith, stands at the door of an airplane that is steadily climbing into the sky. The plane looks like it’s in a hurry, all revved up engine, wind beating down on panes. It’s a rickety old one, the inside of which looks like a cross between a cargo dump and a badly-built train. Indrajith stands at the open door of the plane, as one would in a local train or a bus, rescues his pet puppy, dramatically, a la DDLJ, and brings him on board. All the while, the aircraft is on a steep incline. This isn’t a spoof of some sort, but earnest, from-the-heart filmmaking, the moment propped up to be one that would keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Only, the audience doesn’t quite know how to react. There’s a chuckle heard every now and then, and one wonders aloud if Selvaraghavan could have handled it better – for of course, the stunts aside, it’s a subject familiar to the filmmaker.

An ex-ASI chief discovers something of interest in his family legacy: An ancient scroll that would lead him to buried treasure – in this case, a tiny meteorite said to possess medicinal powers. So, to trace the object, he adds a new member to his team – a goofy someone who is a stark reminder of his father. But that’s the way with star kids, more often than not. If Atharvaa had exhibited a streak of wallowing in unrequited love, Gautham Karthik attempts to channel his father’s… jauntiness in every scene. There’s a spring in his step, he always has a wisecrack or two – not entirely wise or funny – and seems to magic himself out of any sticky situation. On paper, at least. On the screen, his dialogues fall flat, fail to elicit cheer – or worse, any emotion – and are faintly reminiscent of Ullathai Alli Thaa for reasons that we can’t wholly comprehend. Perhaps it’s the way he’s with women. When Indrajith opens, Gautham Karthik tries to charm an air hostess, all for some untimely hot chocolate. He compliments her perfume (‘Chanel? I like it, too’), her smile and soon, she’s all but butter. Unsurprisingly, it works – because, how can it not? He’s the hero, and he’s someone whom no woman can resist. You can’t call the hero creepy now, can you?

Meanwhile, in their quest to find the meteorite, the team encounters every kind of hurdle there is. From confronting ‘rebel groups’ in remote Arunachal Pradesh – men with matching red bandanas conversing in Hindi – to a rival ASI faction and several CGI animals – one of them a royal Bengal tiger – Indrajith, with a background score all to himself, finds the medicinal stone. It pulsates from under a Linga, neon blue; but before he could get his hands on it, he passes out from a snake bite. And, in what we thought happened only in movies from the 90s, another CGI serpent, not quite unlike the one in the Mudhalvan song, revives him. Come to think of it, it’s not entirely implausible after the glorious airplane stunt; but, it’s a shame, really, because if Indrajith’s intents were clearer, it would have made for some nice, idle entertainment, if nothing else. The one with which we know we can’t really nitpick, or look for explanations. Something that is meant to be laughed with, or at, and not quite reviewed in a reviewer’s fashion.

*****

The Indrajith review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Alias Grace: Through A Tapestry Of Fabric

Murderess… the word has an odour, musky and oppressive; rustles across the floor like a taffeta skirt’

– Alias Grace (1996, Margaret Atwood)

Fabrics play a huge role in Alias Grace. All through the book and the show, a distinct sub-text prevails: That of patchwork quilts and patterns, of designs and superstition, a mosaic of scenes and snippets that may or may not form a coherent whole.

Alias Grace‘s Sarah Gadon embodies the Atwood woman in spirit. She is prosaic and poetic all at once; talks of lovely evenings, so beautiful that they make her sad, of the pleasure to be had in the sight of fresh laundry rippling in the air, of apples and parsnips and beets that have a different texture when boiled. She talks of a bloody petticoat from her first period, her pretty embroidered handkerchief that was found wound around the neck of the murdered housekeeper whose household she was a part of, a sample of cloth from the gown of her corpse. She talks of fashioning lovely cuts of triangles from the clothes and weaving them all into quilt that she would make for herself. It would ripple and billow in the air someday just as the others do. The triangles would occupy the centre of the tree of paradise, a pattern she loves. Or perhaps, I would make an old maid’s puzzle, she tells the doctor who has come to review her case, and diligently takes notes of what she says. “I’m an old maid, don’t you think, sir, and I’ve been very puzzled.”

Grace sews, fiddles with the thimble as she says this, glances at the doctor from under her lashes steadily scratching away at his book, smiles. She knows he’s smitten by the tale that she weaves. And by extension, herself. At times, Grace, clad in a roomy blue pinafore with a flat Peter Pan collar, wets the thread between her lips to sharpen the edge. Dr Simon Jordan listens, a perfect sample of gentleman wardrobery – a tie and a coat. It’s classic representation of Grace’s thoughts about him – refined, avuncular, decidedly dispassionate but not entirely unfeeling. She smiles as he flinches at her miserable past, presses on in a low voice.

A textbook example of post-modernist literature, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace on screen, based on the 1843 real life murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada, is terrifyingly subliminal in the portrayal of its protagonist. There’s violence in the peace, a precise, clinical loveliness to the frames that works below consciousness to arouse dread.

Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant and convicted murderess, with an abusive, lovelorn and poverty-ridden past, works in the scullery of the notoriously-reputed Scottish gentleman with a snowy, clipped beard. It makes for pleasantly creepy characterisation. When she meets Mr Kinnear for the first time, he punches a man in the gut for making advances towards her. He looks thorough, light travelling coat and a well-poised hat, helps her up the carriage, sits next to her as an equal. They drive down Yonge Street to his farm. Nancy Montgomery, whose acquaintance Grace had made a few days before, is gowned in elegant peach tones when Grace sees her first. Soft muslin and a fine set of teeth, gold earrings that catch the light of the sun. She reminds Grace of a dear, dead friend. Arriving at the Kinnear household a little later, Grace is conflicted; Nancy, picking flowers in the garden, wears the pink of roses, with a bonnet cinched in elaborate satin. Flashy, jarring and worldly to her grey plaid skirt, Grace observes that she isn’t too welcoming.

Atwood, in her book, names chapters after quilting patterns, a few of which are described in great detail. She writes about cut and borders – of Wild Goose Chase and Vine – quilts for the married and quilts for the matrons. Fabrics take on a distinctive literary quality as well; they are used as metaphors like in here, to describe sounds – “There is great pleasure to be had in a wash all clean and blowing in the wind; the sound is like the host of the Heavenly Hosts applauding – though from far away. They do say cleanliness is next to godliness.” They are also employed to be evocative of a particular smell. Mrs Humphrey, Dr Jordan’s forlorn landlady who would love to have him in her bed, is said to bear a “hot dry smell like that of white linen being ironed.”

Clothing is also used a lot to reinforce character. Mary Whitney, Grace’s friend and confidante who presents her with a patterned kerchief on Christmas, has sharp eyebrows, a face not shorn of bony adolescence and a generally cheerful disposition. She’s sunny, often seen in the brightest of scenes, her apron decidedly white. George Parkinson, the son of the household, to whose advances she submits, has a gold chain twinkling over his coat. When Mary dies of a botched abortion, deliberately misled and used by George, Mrs Parkinson, his mother and the mistress of the household, is seen in a stuffy maroon gown that poufs over the arm. She bribes Grace into silence, presses a crisp note in her palm.

*****

Dr Simon Jordan, who seems both enchanted and repulsed by his patient, gradually becomes more involved in the tale she spins, needle, thread and thimble in rhythmic motion. He takes a fancy to her, begins fantasising. A risqué theme for the time the book was set in, it turns the psychologist-patient relationship on its head. Dr Jordan doesn’t quite know if he believes in her constructs; her tale seems deliberately thought-out, yet with a carefree innocence that he can’t quite place. In the novel, Atwood describes him as unpretentious. “He hates cravats and stocks and wishes them at the Devil,” she says, “he resents his trousers as well and all the stiff and proper clothing generally. Why does a civilized man see fit to torture his body by cramming it into strait-jacket of gentlemanly dress? Perhaps it’s mortification of flesh like a hair shirt. Men ought to be born in little woolen suits which would grow with them over the years thus avoiding the whole business of tailors and their endless fussing and snobberies.”

In Alias Grace, bonnets are subject to social class, too. Nancy Montgomery lends her elaborately fashioned one to Grace to wear on her birthday. Have the afternoon to yourself, she says. During other times, they make for a handy ruse. When Dr Jordan wonders why Grace doesn’t describe Mr Kinnear particularly to him, she blames it on her bonnet. “I didn’t wish to gape at him, sir,” she says, “And, I needed to turn my head because of the bonnet. I suppose you haven’t worn one, have you?”

No, says Dr Jordan, I suppose it’s very confining.

Much later, towards the end, Grace’s clothes see a dramatic transformation. In the final episode, she no longer wears blue, but a flowing black gown that fans out prettily across her lap. A dark veil over her head sets the mood for what is to come – a hypnotherapy session that seems to blow a new personality into Grace – vile, sinister, jeering. Did you help strangle Nancy, Dr Jordan asks of her. “It was my kerchief,” she twitters, “It was a shame to lose it. It was my mother’s and such a pretty pattern it had on it, too.”

*****

Aramm Review: Nayanthara Gets A Hero’s Treatment In This Poignant Drama

Gopi Nainar’s Aramm is eerily reminiscent of Kaaka Muttai. Not just because of the presence of the two child actors (Vignesh and Ramesh) who seem to have grown quite a bit, but also because of its stark reflection of social reality, or inequality if you would. Aramm constructs a rooted tale just like Kaaka Muttai, of a small family in a remote village who, despite their dire poverty and the lack of basic essentials, derive pleasure in the littlest of things and also fight their own demons. In a particular instance, the father, played by Ramachandran Durairaj, admonishes his boy for dreaming dreams of entering competitive swimming. Later that night, in a rustic setting that perhaps looks artful when viewed through the camera, he bares his soul to his wife. He tells her about his love for kabaddi and the social and political barriers that effectively put an end to his dreams. It’s tender, this instance; she listens, reaches out to touch him, they want to make love, but dare not give into moment; the kids sleep on a makeshift bed a few feet away. It’s an intimate scene that transcends physicality, and yet is so satisfyingly intense.

Aramm brims with such soulful frames before lapsing into drama. Nayanthara plays a district collector, with a distinct sense of right and wrong. And, an awesome taste in saris. She’s seen wearing just two through the movie. Of course, it may be considered blasphemous to indulge in talk about clothes especially given her role, but we will moon over her saris anyway. Soft cotton in lovely muted shades, with a high-necked blouse that serves to purposefully desexualise her, they are gorgeous, indeed. Nayanthara looks pretty as a picture in them; who says you can’t be smart and beautiful, hey?

When Aramm opens, she sits opposite a bureaucrat in what looks like an inquiry. There seems to have been a dereliction of duty; the bureaucrat seems furious at her, but there are helpful nudges. He’s made to mouth dialogues that are worded to be self-incriminating as Nayanthara seethes in righteously indignant silence. She then speaks for the people, expresses disgust at the political play as the bureaucrat with a questionable sense of ethics and someone who appears worldly to the idealist that she is, berates her for acting on the job.

Aramm, at its heart, is a bleak tale of a family that falls on bad times. Nainar makes you a part of them; the camera follows the mother as she chooses a birthday cake for her young daughter, brooding over vanilla and strawberry and finally picking one that is neither, but just inexpensive. When her son who loves to swim develops an infection in the ear, she sends her husband to the chemist; paying for a doctor’s advice would mean that they cannot spend on their daughter’s birthday. It’s almost endearing, this portrait of a family that obviously loves one another. Running in parallel, and in the background, are some of the everyday issues that their settlement faces. The director juxtaposes different settings – water scarcity, corrupt politicians, a society plagued with various evils – places the four at the centre of each, and watches them cope. It’s clever filmmaking despite the prolonged drama that unfolds later, but you’d be much inclined to forgive it all because Nainar has chosen something that you’d probably read about when you open the papers tomorrow. Ghibran’s melancholic score is eloquent by itself, and when not predicting impending doom, it’s creepy enough to paint a musical portrait of a set of parents’ desperate plea for help.

The film weaves in and out of the inquiry, cutting to events in the past – and the collector’s association with the family. Incidentally, we learn her name in a well-poised moment, not right at the beginning, but towards the intermission. Nayanthara as Mathivadhani is the government’s nightmare; she calls herself a ‘democrat’, teaches the bureaucrats a lesson or two about democracy, and is not one to share their corrupt, self-serving ideals despite several naked threats. She’s almost too good to be true, and is quite reminiscent of the pure, heart-of-gold heroes our cinema usually favours. What’s different here though is that a woman is unreservedly given the treatment that’s usually saved for the male leads. A low-angle shot of Nayanthara right at the end is especially lovely; she’s imposing, towers over the camera, and walks decidedly down the path that she’s chosen for herself. Naturally, the most powerful instance in the movie also belongs to her. When Mathivadhani IAS emerges successful in a long, emotionally-exhausting mission, she breaks down and sobs in relief. There’s no shoulder-riding or other gimmicks that are usually a part of such frames – just an honest shot of a leader uninhibitedly displaying her emotions while savouring a quiet moment of triumph.

*****

The Aramm review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Ippadai Vellum Review: A Thriller That Tries Too Hard To Be Inventive But Fails To Keep Up Pace

It’s almost too cute to see a villain with a glass eye. Add to that some matted locks and a general rugged appearance, and the quintessential villain is yours to command. In Ippadai Vellum, Daniel Balaji as Chhota generates quite a bit of interest despite his very run-of-the-mill terrorist look. He’s in jail, his clothes, fingers and just about everything on him are filthy, and when he uncovers a secret stash of batteries, wires and assorted bits and bobs to make explosives – all from underneath the foot rest of a really filthy toilet – there’s some hope of a decent thriller. The only dampener though, is the all too familiar imagery that broadly hints at something grim – just in case we miss the other in-your-face clues. Distinct grey frames, incessant rain, a terrorist who tries to hack away at his chains and set a few things in motion – how boring, really. But Daniel Balaji, in his one thousand four hundred and fortieth role as a villain since Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu, does make you sit up, even if it’s for a brief while.

Radikaa Sarathkumar seems to be the mother-in-demand in Tamil cinema. In Ippadai Vellum, she plays a single mother who fends for her family by driving a bus. And that, perhaps, is the most progressive part of the film, never mind the fact that the idea is readily milked for emotions later. Her son, Udhayanidhi as Madhusudhanan, is an out-of-work engineer in love with a colleague (Manjima Mohan as Bhargavi). Just when they plan to marry, things go awry. Much like Maanagaram and other movies that tried to connect separate events that occurred over the course of a single day, Ippadai Vellum throws together the proverbial bad guy, the good guy, and the comedian and sees what it can brew. It invents extraordinary scenarios just so that its characters could meet, has brothers who go to great lengths to express their disapproval in their sisters’ choice of spouse, and has some unfunny, contrived moments in the name of comedy. At one point, Soori, who plays a dubbing artiste, mistaken for a terrorist aide, says in what’s propped up to be a hilarious moment. “Naa bayangaravaadhi illa, verum bayangara vyadhi” [I’m not a terrorist, I just have a disease].

Udhayanidhi, accused of being the other terrorist aide, takes it upon himself to find the guy, and set several wrongs right at once. And, Ippadai constantly tries to establish the cleverness of its lead, while also trying to be wildly creative. Its terrorists use a single mail address to communicate; they don’t quite send mails to each other, instead, save all their messages as drafts.

All said and done though, Daniel Balaji as Chhota, who had generated some interest in the opening sequence, deserves a villainous act that befits his growing personality. He may have been well suited to play the murderous guy in the Gautham Menon directorial more than a decade back – all grey and moody – but right now, he could well use some clear skies, bright sunshine and a little more layer than just those matted locks.

*****

The Ippadai Vellum review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Aval Review: Horror Film With Quite Some Promise & Little Too Much Convention

Aval‘s strengths lie in its wonderful frames. The setting is picturesque, almost too lovely for horror, but that’s really what director Milind Rau plays with. The hauntingly beautiful quality of the locales, or the effect lent to them on the post-production table, a palette of blue, grey, and red for contrast may perhaps sound a little too pedestrian for this genre, but boy does it set the tone. A little settlement in Himachal Pradesh, surrounded by the mighty, almost ominous-looking mountains is where Aval takes place.

A young couple – one of them a neurosurgeon (Siddharth) – welcomes new neighbours, a family of five, whose house is the abode of a sinister something. Things shatter, doors bang, apparitions are seen, and a young girl (Anisha Victor as Jennifer) seems possessed. Siddharth flits in and out of his neighbour’s home, much to the chagrin of his wife (Andrea Jeremiah), and to the delight of Jennifer who has a tendency to take near-suicidal walks, and seems always on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The most chilling moment in the movie belongs to her. As the malefic spirit of a woman who’d lost her child, she lets out a grief-stricken, almost feral cry, which, when amplified at sound-designing – passes well above the threshold for human tolerance of high-pitched sounds. Thanks in part to Dolby Atmos too, of course.

If there’s something that you wish that horror movies don’t do, it’s confine themselves within the cozy, familiar comforts offered by a haunted house and other related paraphernalia. But, movie after movie, a haunted bungalow after haunted bungalow (with stylish flooring and décor in this case), never fails to lure the filmmakers. It probably calls out to them as Vijayalalitha does to Jaishankar here:

Aval also has a fiery cross in place to add character. There are also stray mentions of ‘Friday the 13th’, the holy Bible, ‘The Exorcist’, and other props to create mood, but those are just inconsequential at best and obsolete at worst. For the camera not only captures the sleepy loveliness that the locale exudes, it also lends itself over to the still mountain regions, terrifying in its allure. In a particular frame, a dark forest is flanked by hills on either side. A neon jeep breaks the near perfect symmetry. Aval opens to a moment back in time, a Chinese mother and her young daughter in the wilderness, the house looming large – set to a sweet, chilling lullaby.

It is, as the the director had intended, unadulterated horror for some time, until it succumbs to conventional tropes of the genre. What seems to be a good tale of haunting despite the hills and the house and the exorcism and the babies, soon turns into a story about witchcraft, the hills, the house, the exorcism and the babies. The title too, isn’t uncommon. Pronouns, by and large, lend an air of sinister foreboding to a horror film, and here, it’s no different. Except for the gender perhaps.

*****

The Aval review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.