Dangal- of wars,ringside and beyond

Mahavir Phogat leaves the sport at a point with some more to offer to it and some more to receive from it. This incomplete arc leaves a bitter taste on his soul, that just wouldn’t go with the eflux of time. It just assumes another form; yearning. The yearning accrues into something bigger, a dream. A dream for a progeny- a son to complete his aspiration, carry his legacy forward. This dream keeps accruing in desperation through the birth of every daughter, till it comes to an eventual halt of acceptance at the birth of the fourth. He genuflects before destiny’s hand in fashioning a future in a direction converse to his dream. A few years later, providence springs a surprise at him, in the form of his daughters. As it turns out, they’re wrestlers too like their big man. This is enough for him to dust off his locked dream. And he goes after it like a marooned man at a wild boar. Redemption was all that he wanted- the elusive Olympic gold -and begetting a son was the means and not the end to it. Thus begins a fascinating journey of a father who goes on to live his dream vicariously through the achievements of his two daughters.

Dangal is set in a patriarchal system we’re so used to despising, just that instead of wrestling had it been cooking and if he was a cook and his ambition was to make it to Masterchef it wouln’t have gained the national veto of being an invigorating movie; especially for families with girl children.  As graceful and ambitious as the man was, his underlying chauvinism cannot be ignored. Mahavir manipulates his dreams into theirs, his aspirations to theirs at an impressionable age. They become the monks who’re forced into their renunciation to pursue his nirvana.
There’s something preposterous about sporting achievements- don’t know about other countries, but definitely in this part of the world -that colours personal accolades as pride of a nation. Bigger the arena, bigger its subversion into patriotism. Any sport is a spectator event dependent on the emotional gullibility of its fan to thrive. So naturally when a nation is pitted against another at its behest, the similar bifurcation happens in the stands as well. Cheering for a sportsperson representing a nation blurs into national solidarity. For it is the most convenient display of patriotism unlike paying taxes and taking bullets.

Can’t remember the last time a lead man walked the screen, so naked of vanity to bring credence to a portrayal.There’s a thin line that runs between egotism and mentoring, Aamir Khan’s Phogat treads this with absolute precision bringing dignity,grace and empathy to a grumpy man who speaks economically, while constantly finding himself torn between taming his inner demons and his little devils on mud pitches. It’s this ego he seeks validation of when he spars with his non abiding elder daughter. Her tresses are shoulder length, her manoeuvres revised. She’s no longer the creature of his fashioning, his dreams have dissolved in her indulgences. Age doesn’t blunt his resentment- even if it has managed to make his weary limbs, clumsily slow -as he continues to spar. She comes on top and he loses. But this isn’t one of those vanilla tropes from mainstream films, where the after taste of a man’s loss to his own child is sweet. The sight of a muddy old Phogat gasping for breath in humiliation as his elder daughter stands to taunt is anything, but that. Wrestling transcends beyond the pitch between the two.

There’s a scene where Phogat finds himself before a archaic table in a sports federation, he’s there to seek funds to support the training of his daughters. The officer in front talks to him in haryanvi almost. Almost because majority of his mouth is in the service of grinding a mothi laddoo from a box he’s received from the desperate man before him. He nonchalantly explains the paucity of funds with finger movements for neglected sports like wrestling, especially for women, mockingly. A frustrated Phogat begins to rant about why India fares poorly in the Olympics, when he’s cut midway by the officer’s abrupt exit for lunch.

It is scenes like this that bring out the odds that were stacked against the real Phogat, the numerous fights he had to take outside the ring- with the condescending villagers, the purists of the game, a sporting system content of mediocrity -to get his daughters into it.It is a story which needed to be told. Dangal tells this story with utmost integrity without circumventing around its protagonist like a demigod. Unlike the Dhoni biopic, which felt like a litany of montages shot for Chivas Regal promotions than a movie, Dangal doesn’t sidestep the grey shades of its central characters.It in fact for the most part keeps away from the temptation to celebrate them, instead tells a story that deserves to be celebrated. Even if not for the anthem that played in the final moments, I stood as the end credits began to roll, to doff my hat to- the movie, the people who made it and the ones it was made on. It is that kind of a movie that gets to you. Think it would to most, given the reception it got in the theatre I watched.


A phony like Dhoni

Even gods had bad days at the office, their thunder bolts wouldn’t come off or the spouses ditched their sides to mortal planets, over moral stand-offs.  Some demi gods, as invincible as they were had weak links in their anatomy as well, like Achilles for instance. Their flaws and the comeuppance that followed lent pulp of relatability for tons of mythology to be woven into scaffolding for many a religion. Take for instance the Ramayana, without the long exile we wouldn’t have gotten a well rounded hero in a man who wept, sweated and bled; but with grace and dignity on the face of the worst jokes fate was spinning around him. There’s a certain charm that comes in chronicling the lives of great men, who wore their failures as a badge of honour, while holding fort in the eye of the storm. Their character is often the halo we bend before with reverence.

Biopics are the closest we get into the heads of some fascinating men who walked the face of the earth, as long as their travails aren’t manicured in the altar of mass acceptance.
Given the number of promotional gigs Dhoni has been a part(a number,little higher than the press conferences he’s attended in his tenure as a captain); not to mention his vested interest that extends to the production of the movie; my hopes of an half honest account nose dove like his recent form.

So to be fair, I went in to the movie with a good quantity of predisposition, but was pleasantly surprised by the cinematic translation of the underdog story I had read and heard, albeit with a few liberties. I especially loved the portions involving his childhood and how the little men around him had chipped in to become cogs to make this giant wheel roll ahead. But as the movie progressed, the earthy smell got replaced by something that resembled the stench of vanity  and characters who hitherto spoke and felt like laymen started making pronouncements- juxtaposed with cricketing metaphors -out of Robin Sharma books. Soon the movie resembled a Nelson Mandela biopic attempt with Will Smith in Bad Boys swagger.

After a point the movie goes on autopilot, resembling a compilation of “greatest ODI knocks episodes” on ESPN, only that we’ve got stock footage of Anupam Kher‘s reaction shots instead of Harsha Bhogle and a doppelganger instead of Dhoni to contend.
The hyperbole level is dialed up further, as we come across more stock characters-all devotedly white without a speck of grey- nobler than the noblest, naiver than naive. The two women who constitute his love interest with their strict no PDA rules that would make Madhubala look like a vamp are embarrassing cliches with similar scopes-montages, songs, valentine’s predicament, lost poodle eye roll and commitment pangs.Rinse. Repeat.

And why on earth did the family and well wishers who are shown eternally glued to their television sets on match days, never in any of his match venues? Probably because the director didn’t want to meddle with the collective over-idealism in the movie.Another cardinal sin the makers commit is making a biopic during the times of Dhoni, with his relevance intact. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a fairly well made(dramatised) biopic could leverage on the advantage that it was made decades after his time. It could afford to have a brawny Farhan Akhtar who looked nothing like Milkha play him, throw facts to the wind and milk his blurry distance from public memory. Same reason, the initial portions with Dhoni’s childhood resonate the best, as they’re far removed from his time, with nothing but anticipation to yardstick their authenticity.

Largely entertaining,imaginative and well intentioned, it’s a tight rope walk between movie making and manipulation that the director manages to pull off, but when the heart of the protagonist is compromised, what we’re left with is the cry of an invigorating background score, instead of the rhythm of his heart.

We didn’t expect a chest-splayed-out-in-the-open account in the first place, but at least a banian level of honesty, with a doff of hat to cautious diplomacy. But we instead get seven layers of expensive clothes, all trying to pass off as his righteous skin.In the end as we begin to realise the vanity spin off the movie turned out to be,Sushant Singh appears like a metaphor to the movie; better looking,well built and ultra polished than the man himself.


Kabali- A “what-went-wrong” deconstruction

Now that Kabali is out in the theatres and the fracas around it has settled down, people have started talking beyond the gargantuan hype surrounding the movie; and the feeling seems to largely be mixed- bordering from bafflement to disappointment. And a handful of the die-hard fans of Rajni seem to crying out foul, at the not-so-flattering air inundating the movie.
A marketing blitzkrieg carved out of planes plastered with Rajni’s face and silver coins forged with his impressions, can only go as far as kindling the curiosity of the hoi polloi, to check out the movie over its opening weekend. What transpires in the dark of the theatre, as the movie starts to interact with its audience is far removed from the hype held in the painted plane; that handheld them into the theatre in a frantic spell. The final taste that the chocolate leaves in the mouth is completely independent of the celebrity in the advertisement and the expensive foil wrapping it.

Honest marketing campaigns as they come, achieve the middle ground between preserving the true core of a product, while attempting to augment its reach. When the product rolls out, they manage to create a positive synergy to firm up its equity. This is probably where Kabali seems to have slipped.

Marketing is not an elaborate artifice, but a propaganda with a fiduciary angle to ensure an honest positioning of an underlying product. Hollywood employs this to great effect. Take for instance the case of Robert Downey Jr, easily the biggest star of this generation. The marketing campaign for a simple little movie starring him called, The Judge was diametrically different from the scale and tone of his Avengers movie. It was positioned as an emotional- court drama with a personal conflict at its heart. When it released the audience  didn’t feel deceived, as it catered to the niche it was made for who exactly knew what to expect from it. Imagine their plight had they gone in expecting an Ironman kind of a movie, to only find a vulnerable Downey Jr( sans his Tony Stark quirks) reconcile with a grumpy father in the backdrop of a lackadaisical small town.
Coming back to Kabali, going by the two teasers that went viral  to the numerous promotional initiatives creating the endless halo around the movie, one thing was clear. They were loudly reiterating the movie to be a quintessential Rajni fare with celebratory accoutrement on the lines of a Basha or a Annamalai. There was not an inkling about it being otherwise, as the color and scope fashioning the imagination of the prospective ticket buyer were far removed from an experimental movie that was not run of the mill.

About the countless memes doing rounds about feeling let down by Rajni not playing his larger than life self, that firmed his stratospheric stature. We go to a circus that touts the jumping through the flaming hoops by its exotic tiger as its flagship act. Suddenly the tiger wants to juggle like the monkey, much to the crowd’s bafflement. The attempt as noble as it is, wouldn’t sugarcoat the collective disappointment of the audience that had paid to watch the tiger’s deft defiance through the rings of danger.

Evaluation of a movie from the standpoint of the income and expenses of its producer isn’t an organic assessment of the taste it leaves, lingering in the minds of the audience as they step out of the theatre. For movie making is an art form that thrives beyond the jurisdiction of commerce, the flourish of which doesn’t depend on the coffer of the investors alone.
Kabali to me is an overpriced cola without its fizz, the fizz people were conned into paying for in hordes. I would anytime suggest a helping of Annamalai over the trivia of a painted plane carrying wealthy people masquerading as Thalaivar fans to an uninitiated person; to understand the aura of the phenomenon called Rajinikanth.



Perils of being an Intelligent Salman Khan Fan

A friend shared an article that screamed at my face right from the title that went-Dear Intelligent Salman Khan Fan, It’s Finally Time For Us To Talk.

This friend sharing this article to me was an aftermath of a long winding argument from previous night about Salman’s recent comment belittling the act of rape by metaphorizing it, with characteristic disdain.
Her conundrum was not just about my insensitivity to his; but also about the coexistence of a fan of Kamal Haasan and Woody Allen’s oeuvre and a Bhai lover in the breadth of the same person.
Coming to think of it,its not the first time I’ve been condescended for my fondness to Salman.

“You speak and write in good english. You’re able to appreciate the nuances in the composition of Nadaan Parindey. Why would you be a Bhai fan?”

I laughed it out by continuing to watch Jumme Ki Raat.

“You’re a fan of a criminal who just bought justice on E-Bay. Doesn’t it make you a accomplice too? Next time think twice before mocking the corrupt netas on your timeline with sarcasm.”

I try reasoning it out with you, but after reaching a moot; I left it and continued tweeting about how awesome the Sultan trailer was,much to your dismay.

So dear Salman hater let me try demystifying the possibility of a being a Bhai fan, while being a connoisseur of art and a decent person at the same time.

True that I’m a huge fan of Kamal Haasan. I muse on his work when I’m not imitating him subconsciously. I would like to believe that I’m capable of making my own ambience with a playlist; I believe that I’ve got a decent taste of music. Loner by choice, on Saturday nights I’ve often ensconced on the warmth of Woody Allen classics over getting wasted in dingy clubs playing psychedelic music.
But I couldn’t help but get delirious like the euphoric crowd around me when Bhai broke into a neanderthal celebratory dance, lip syncing to “Saath Samundar“; while watching Kick on the day of its release.
It’s not like he’s a great actor or a great dancer, which he himself admits to not being. Then what is it that endears him to the masses(intelligentsia included) as a star to root for in cacophonous unison? There’ something strangely delightful about watching a star-fully aware of the prowess of his mojo-wielding it with the primal fluidity that Bhai does on screen. Which is the very reason why his goofy steps from a Muni Badnam or Dhinka Chika gets  imitated across demographies.

Bhai loves to take his shirt off; like we love to wolf whistle at the sight of it.
Bhai can say the weirdest of stuff  in an outlandish accent without making it sound like gibberish.(case in point being Baskar bas kar Baskar…monologue from Partner.) Torso flexed exaggeratedly, Bhai struts across the screen like a gladiator at the sight of his opponent even when in the service of a soft romantic number.
There are things that only he can get away with, plastering a smile instead of a smirk on our faces. For who else would we buy pleading in the name of Lord Hanuman  to the Pakistan army, while trying to trespass to the other side of the LOC?

Salman’s screen image is that of a man-child, who broods copious quantity of machismo without dissolving the underlying innocence. He’s the stud who captures the imagination of an entire nation with his style statements time and again, but would never once go beyond Base one onscreen because Prem wouldn’t do things that make families cringe.
Prem is Bhai’s alter ego-dutiful son, doting brother, hopeless romantic all rolled up into one endearing cliche-just like Bhai is ours.

So by being a Salman Khan fan, I’m catering to the side of me which likes to feed on mindless entertainment from movies having larger than life heroes. The side of me which loves junk food for the instant gratification of the tongue without having to think about the nutrition or the lack of it.I can find the gol guppas on the streets as fascinating as a formaggi pizza and continue to be a well rounded foodie.

My blood does boil as one news after another breaks about the heinous sexual violations perpetrated against the women fraternity. I’m born with a sister of my own and have a lot of women acquaintances, whose safety I wish for. I’ve at times felt like suspending a chauvinistic pig from his genetia that rightfully got provoked at the sight of women in modern clothes.
News of Salman taking up the word “rape”-discounting its gravitas-does not infuriate me as much as the very act does. A lewd analogy drawn out of a socially despised crime is in really bad taste. It shows the lack of finesse in the person at best. But it doesn’t make him an instant public enemy  who needs to be  brought to his knees by hypersensitive activists and self appointed torch bearers of feminism.
Ours is the same nation that uses the fuck word on dinner table conversations. So it’s not like when someone tells me to fuck off, he insults the very act of holy consummation that brings life on earth. Got screwed and screw you are other popular phrases of our common parlance.Neither do they serve as salt on the wound of a rape victim.

So why the fracas around Salman’s statement alone. Is it because he’s a soft target given his  perceived notorious image or the big bucks riding on him?

My fascination for Bhai’s films is not as much  an endorsement to his thought trains or offscreen ideologies as it is a reflection of my taste for a particular kind of films. Our relation is that of a superstar and a fan of his shenanigans. Our worlds don’t intersect beyond his movies. My love for Bhai movies doesn’t fashion my moral compass or conscience; which was alive and kicking last time I checked; even before Arnab Goswami tried pretending to be it.

So this Eid, I’m gonna watch Sultan. No; it doesn’t change the fact that to I continue to be a law abiding person;an animal lover who respects women and strongly condemns misogyny in any form.

Rahman and me

This is one debate, I’m sure has often crept into our conversations as to who among Ilaiyaraja and Rahman is a bigger musical genius; when some of us- who proclaim to know a little more about mainstream film music beyond “airchecks” -gather for collective slaughtering of idle time. And it is funny to see this seemingly inconsequential topic turn from being just an objective discourse to a personal war of affiliation à la “Believers vs Atheists” , with the passage of time .
I’ve always maintained the stance that both are greats in their own regards, not just diplomatically, but as a solicitous patron to both their creations.

To me this is similar to comparisons between Sivaji Ganesan and Kamal Haasan or Gavaskar and Tendulkar as to who among them is better. There’s always been this congenital curiosity among all of us to pit legends of a similar field from different eras against each other to derive a silver lining to our respective tastes.

When faced with the one-up manship conundrum – I’ve always picked Kamal over Sivaji, Sachin over Gavaskar and Rahman over Raja without having to ponder much.
I’ve revered Sivaji’s prowess in many a movies, my favourite among them being Rajapat Rangadurai that tugged at my heart in places that I didn’t know of till then. Who can forget the thespian’s that’s-how-it’s-done performance in Devar Magan alongside Kamal.
Everytime I’ve watched the highlights of Gavaskar taking the battle to the mighty West Indies of the eighties with sinewy craftsmanship, my respect for him grew manifold corroborating his placement among the “all time greats”.Ditto with Ilaiyaraja, everytime I’ve heard his evergreen background score from Johnny  or the eternal Mandram Vantha Thendraluku from Mouna Ragam; I get an idea about the stuff legends are made of.

So there’s no discounting the contribution of these doyens to their respective fields and the sway they held over the imagination of an entire generation. So like Sivaji and Gavaskar, Ilaiyaraja in my head belongs in a little aloof “Hall of Fame”. And like Kamal and Sachin, Rahman’s music belongs in a personal space that resonates of familiar nostalgia. They were the Sun that rose on my horizon. They were the pied pipers that lured me into the charm of their arts. Their work was the walker the connoisseur in me held to take his baby steps .

PALLAVI-childhood and chinna chinna aasai

I’m just a little older than Rahman’s musical journey that started in 1992, the same year my younger sister was born; my first fondness for film music was born to the tunes of Chinna Chinna Aasai from Roja, with the visuals of Madhubala’s shenanigans in the village remaining etched indelibly in my head.
His music was my favourite toy back then that I used to play with. As I grew, it grew in stature too –from a toy to an inebriant. If Kanuku Mai Azhagu from Pudhiya Mugam was a balm to this thing I now acknowledge to be my soul, Chikku Bukku Raiyile from Gentleman was this anthem that fashioned railway stations and stalking as cool things for times to come.

My childhood was marked by fond anticipation for the release of the next album from Rahman, who used to be my Santa back then with goodies to the ears. Every album would play on infinite loop till such time the tape would come off the cassette in protest, by which time the lyrics would’ve registered into my parlance.
Kathirika Kathirika from Duet made an affable-cherubic uncle out of Prabhu who sounded like honey, like Urvasi Urvasi from Kadhalan put Prabhu Deva and Anorexic youngsters on the map.
That was a time when light music concerts were in vogue and there was a band that went by the name of Sadhaga Paravaigal, that performed Eduda Antha Sooriya from Pudhiya Mannargal as their curtain raiser. Hearing that was my first tryst with adrenalin and the ability of my hair on arms to raise.

Rahman has been notorious for single-handedly luring me and a lot others in my age group to buy tickets to many a crap-fest predominantly starring Prabhu Deva like Mr.Romeo and Love Birds on the sheer magnetism of the songs. But have to admit that watching Prabhu Deva simmer like butter on a pan  to the tune of Romeo Attam Potal from Mr.Romeo was sheer goose bump giving catharsis.

This was a time, when audio cassetes and CDs came along with scrip that carried lyrics of every song in the album. It was part of popular culture back then to memorise songs by listening to them with an eager eye on the lyrics with a surgeon’s precision.

So when I was in the process of naively getting acquainted to lines like Nee Pogum Theruvil Angalai Vidamaten, Sila Pengalai Vida maten(I won’t let men come on the streets you parade, some women too) from Telephone Manipol in Indian or Pasuvinai Pambu Endra Satchi Solla Mudiyum, Kambinil Visham Enna Karakava mudiyum?(One could testify about a snake near a cow, not poison its udder) from Vidukathaiyo in Muthu, I really didn’t understand the poetry or the context of what I was parroting. To me they were mere scaffolding to song’s tune. I had to wait till puberty to appreciate the metaphorical perversion and the silk draped sorrow, woven intricately in the lines by wordsmiths like Vairamuthu and Vaali.

What ten years of schooling couldn’t manage to do, a few Rahman songs did. Hindi suddenly felt like zephyr on the ears, the articulation of every syllable seemed like music independently. It was no more the grumpy second language from school competing for my attention, courtesy Rangeela. I had to understand what a lovelorn Aamir Khan was moping about on the streets in Kya Kare Kya Na Kare.
By the time Dilse came, I knew where to and on whom to use Mein Yahe Tukudoon Me Jee Raha Hoon(I’m living as broken pieces here?) from Ae Ajnabi. Such was the influence of my Rahman on my life. I almost learnt a language out of the curiosity to appreciate a tune’s contours effectively.

ANUPALLAVI-adolescence and acquaintance to the heart of a song

As I grew, so did he. I had by then bookmarked every important chapter in my life with a Rahman song. I was no more the star struck kid who was too smitten by the bout of magic received, to effectively deploy it. I had learnt to respond and react to a mood of a song. I started making my own playlist of Rahman songs, that I exactly knew when to play to rig an emotion. Rahman turned from being a Santa, to a favorite uncle like figure who would gift me with relevant things according to the phase I was in.

So the chocolates and teddy bears made way for geometry boxes and Enid Blyton books.

I started appreciating nuances of neglected gems in every album. I wasn’t swept by the wave of a super hit song to overlook the better song of an album. With Rahman, this was all the more relevant, for the gem of the album would often be hidden among instant hits of popular appeal.
Take for instance the case of Minsara kanavu, it was a blockbuster album with all saccharine songs that the arabianesque-uniquely rendered Thanga thamarai Magale got neglected at the time of its release. Same with  Luka Chuppi from Rang De Basanti  that went under the debris of other immensely popular tracks. These earworms are much like cult classic films that went unnoticed during their time, to only find eternal reverance from another generation much later.

There is this popular perception about the impact of Rahman’s songs, that they initially go above one’s head on the first listen and with every passing listen, they stick to you like a tick for time to come.
Rahman’s song are structured like concentric circles with the core held in the center. At first listen, one feels like so many things are happening in the song, apart from the vocal course and meaning beheld. But with every listen, every layer tends to peel away as an artifice letting you a little closer to its core. Once the pulp of the core is reached, the hitherto artifices seem to feel organic to the progress that they don’t feel like isolated blasts of sounds anymore, but a catalyst to the listening itself.
Dil Gira Dafatan from Delhi-6 being a fine example to this phenomenon.

CHARANAM-adulthood, musical massages for the soul

Like in the case of every long pursued habit, my taste for music became seasoned. It was no more just an exorbitance-a cool thing to flaunt but a customized utility that marked my persona. From being merely a pair of dancing shoes, it had turned a balm to the soul.

Rahman was no more a soft spoken outsider from his interviews, he was a friend, philosopher and guide through his music that would befriend, philosophize and guide. He turned from being a favorite uncle to a confidante in the family who I could go to, hopeful of empathy.

So the geometry boxes and Enid Blyton books paved way for relationship perspectives and soul searching trips.

Since the mid-2000s, Rahman frequently started coming up with divine songs of Sufi flavor that were deviced as qawalis or mass chants that invigorated a lot of serenity within. From mainstream numbers I had started to acknowledge the impact they were having on this entity within, objectified to be my soul.
So when Hrithik’s Akbar broke to that transcendental dance in the finale of Khwaja Mera Khwaja from Jodha Akhbar, I exactly knew what he was going through. Notwithstanding the fact they had a strong Islamic undercurrent, they made it to a playlist called “Divine”, that I would listen to on my daily trips to my pet temple.

There’s this common misconception that a creation has to be watered down to permeate to the lowest common denominator of patronage i.e a song has to be simple for it connect with the masses. Because for a song to become popular, it must be imitable by a layman. Trust Rahman’s to find this middle ground between being popular and purist, without having to subvert the chastity of a genre.
Like in the case of Ay Hairathe Ashiqui from Guru – a seamless wedding between a succulent tune and a Hindustani ghazal or with the dandy sounding Omana Penne that lets Malayalam recitals and techno vocals coexist in an inimitably addictive blend from Vinnaithaandi Varuvaya.

What my unflinching patronage to Rahman made me was a more creative and perceptive person than I would’ve turned out. So by the time I started to use trimmer on my face, I had a fair idea about the syntax of a song, the ability to deconstruct it to Pallavi and Charanam, sieve counterfeits from counterpoints and relate one song to its close doppelganger.

By now what I was looking for in Rahman’s albums had moved beyond mainstream appeal. Not sure, If I was looking for  music to mimic mood or mood to mimic music.
When during a tumultuous time after break-up, I would ensconce in the serrated lines-Meri Bebasi Ka Bayan Hai, bas chal raha na is gadi from Aur Ho in Rockstar or resort to the warm confines of Tu Khuja from Highway on a mind trip of self-discovery.
These songs stood like mirrors before my soul, making me familiar to myself.

Law of averages is this dispassionate diktat that doesn’t even spare the greatest of men, dragging them from highs to lows to average them to reality. And like with the case of every other legend, Rahman’s prowess now seems to have dwindled with time. Was it a result of chopping off his long locks, change in sensibilities or the fact that he had set the bar too high in my head. Only time will tell.
For now, every time I listen to an abysmal offering of his from his recent outings, say Lingaa or 24, I keep comforting myself that he’s the same man who’s work features in my G Drive in a folder called “Work of God”.

Thoongavanam- the movie that wasn’t

God! It was bloody good. I just couldn’t have enough of it. My facial hair felt validated. My adrenalin surge was making my fist pump endlessly into the desk adjoining the PC. The lurking fanboy finally had a reason to resurface with renewed vigour.
The “it” I’m talking about is the trailer of Thoongavanam. Boy was it lip-smacking with Thalaivar in amazing form, kicking some ass. A Taken it was going to be, I thought in Kamal style. Another one to go to the list of masculinity-for-dummies manual that consisted of the likes of Satya and Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu to name a few.
We all revere the mesmerizing actor the man is. A rare breed who could own the screen without disturbing the aesthetics of the story movement. Towering tall enough to not belittle the movie. His recent Papanasam being a case in point.
Coming back to Thoongavanam, I went to the first day first show with great expectations built. The promise the tease managed, the reveal couldn’t build on. Every thing that caught my imagination in the trailer suddenly seemed like red herrings . What with every scene rolling, I could palpably feel my fervency falling apart like a pack of cards. Was the movie bad? No.
But was it just good enough to just not be bad? This was a Kamal Haasan movie after all. All of us know that the actors would be well casted and the cast wouldn’t disappoint. Likewise the technicalities can be taken for granted to be seamlessly in-sync with the narrative. And the narrative would try to bring to fore a radically different story. So Thoongavanam had all these bare minimums fulfilled. But did the fans of the star have anything to root for like a Vedhalam which released alongside had? No.

The reviews which floated around were extremely flattering with most calling it a wonderful remake of the French movie, Sleepless Night with major assertions towards the ‘justice’ it had done to the movie.
So, is it enough for a movie to do just ‘justice’ to the source movie from which it was remade. How relevant would such ardent submission be, if the milieu in which the original movie was based is diametrically different from the remake’s. Not to mention the difference in sensibilities of the respective viewing demography.

Sleepless Night is a French movie that catered largely to Western & European sensibilities when it released back in 2011.We are a population that adds tandoori chicken to make an Italian origin pizza saleable here. If at all, the number of manchurians and fried rice variants that’ve been imagined by our street food industry were to be patented in Indian favour, it would scar the Chinese for a lifetime.
The same holds true for celluloid adaptations of foreign origin movies too. The connectivity in such endeavors happens when nativity is addressed, with the spirit of the original alone preserved in a narrative technique appointed to play to the gallery of a largely indigenous population.
This is where this movie missed the mark by some distance. Taking the culinary metaphor of pizza further, the pizza needed some tandoori sauce and Indian herbs to become palatable on the Indian roads, but continued to be a rich-bland affair that belonged on the ovens of Milan still, but aspired for acceptance in Mylapore.

Let’s take the case of another Kamal classic- Avvaishanmugi which was adapted from an English classic itself, Mrs. Doubtfire.  The movie despite being an adaption of the Robbin Williams starrer had an independent existence of its own without tampering with the core of the original. It kept the central conceit intact, that of a divorced dad dressing up as an elderly woman to be around his little daughter.
The motley product of dispute, reasons, characters & props that the narrative deployed stayed local and relatable, steering it in a direction different from the original, making the movie speak in the language of the hoi polloi.
Mrs. Doubtfire was a classy affair with subtle situational humor. Avvaishanmugi on the other hand was its unabashed masala recreation that relied largely on dialogue based humor and the crowd pulling ability of its lead man. Whether it did justice to the original in its entirety is subjective. But what it managed to do justice to was far more consequential than that. It reached the story of a doting dad’s cross dressing tryst to get back his daughter to a large audience, in the process seeping into popular culture. No wonder the movie was such a roaring success.

Thoongavanam was a grim-long-faced affair unfolding in a night club, that’s claustrophobia inducing with grimmer adults on endless loops of hide-n-seek throughout its running time. It didn’t help that it released on Diwali, a festival that makes mincemeat of guilty pleasures. Where movies are expected to be run-of-the-mill escapist affairs in line with the popular mood, it didn’t help that it was a slow movie that had every character in it operating at a breakneck speed. Every cop and crook in the movie, run for their lives or to save a dependent’s in this convoluted plot involving multiple ratting in either camps. But neither do we connect to their desperation nor to the plot’s urgency to cut to the chase in every sequence.

Throughout the movie we’re shown the endless failed efforts that Kamal’s Diwakar takes to get back his son in painful details. He’s head-butted, pushed and punched by stock characters whose names gratuitously roll in the end credits as “Extras”. They obviously wanted to throw some light on the vulnerability of the lead man. But ended up celebrating his fallibility to an audience that had gathered in hordes to hoot and whistle, alienating them in the process.

The redemption does come in the end. But it was too precise to invigorate any celebration and didn’t even belong to its lead man. In the mainstream format, when a story takes significant duration to paint the struggles of its lead man vividly, but coughs his redemption out like a blemish in the end, it defies the very syntax of moviemaking for the masses that goes, Exaggerate the success in the end to be sweeter than the struggle to make the struggle worthwhile in the first place.

Movie making involves largely making-believe than fact establishing. The leverage of exaggeration and the staging of the protagonist does the trick. Case in point being Emerich’s 2012, an apocalyptic movie that showcases John Cusack and his family escaping comfortably from one natural disaster to another like in a video game with breathtaking ease.  Disasters were staged as an invincible force, making the contrived escapes of the protagonist come across as a bigger spectacle of defiance; playing the primal battle of Man versus the Nature to the gallery.
A closer case being Liam Neeson’s Taken that resembles the plot of Thoongavanam to a large extent. Just that Neeson’s character is staged as an invincible one-man army that runs over anything in his way. Something that Thoongavanam could’ve done with. Something Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu aced. For who can forget the wolf whistles that went up the roof when Raghavan looks into the screen mouthing,”Chinna Pasangala. Tha..Yaaru Kitta da vilayadringa?”
That was a movie for the masses. A star’s conversation with his fans.