I used to be a majorleague movie buff at one point of time. It almost seemed like no movie would release in Hindi, Kannada and Tamil, and to some extent, English, without my knowledge. Mind you, this was in the pre-Internet days, which meant I basically scoured MTV and Channel [V] and Sun TV and Udaya TV to insane extents. While also scouring the filmi news reported in Deccan Herald, Indian Express and, heh, ToI, apart from The Week, India Today and on occasion, The Hindu. I was too snobbish to read Filmfare and Stardust back then.
And then NITK happened, and I lost the TV habit, and there was no LAN or unlimited Internet my first two years to keep my movie habit going.
I used to think it was no big loss, because “the recent movies are all utter manure”. But that is totally not true… pop culture of an earlier era always seems godawesome because you forget about all the crap and only the awesome stuff remains burnt to memory. And I watched enough junk – Aarzoo, Mr. and Mrs. Khiladi, Zulmi, Zor, Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar, Hum Saath Saath Hain were just some of the many repressed memories of utterly idiotic fare I indulged in back then. Oh, and the next time anyone calls Aamir Khar Mr. Perfectionist, they deserve to be subjected to Mela and 1947-Earth back to back.
I watched a lot of movies in third and final year, but those were more of random picks than any actual craze for cinema. Including the first day first show watch of Om Shanti Om. And in college, watching movies was something you did because it was there on an overfull LAN, not because you are fascinated by the trailer or anything. Accessing everything on the Internet has its pitfalls – your allergy for advertisements means that you don’t see anything you don’t explicitly want to see – including new stuff. Unless someone or the other recommends it to you.
Naturally, I am stuck in a ’92-Early’00s pop culture loop. And don’t really try to get out.
I wasn’t too aware of all the stuff I’ve written so far until late this afternoon. I came across the trailer for Vishal Bharadwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf. Watch it yourself:
Don’t you feel the flesh creep a little? Especially at the ‘Darrrrlingggg’? The gentle, understated change from ‘Husband’ to ’7 Husbands’ piqued your curiosity, didn’t it? And John Abraham in drag… that makes you want to watch the movie just to know what the heck is up with that, doesn’t it?
After a really long time, I’m all fired up about a movie. About a Hindi movie…. I was suitably fired up about Shutter Island. So much that I think when I finally stream this movie, it’ll be something I actually make time for, not something I just look for on a boring weekend evening.
I am intrigued by the presence of Usha Uthup as well. She was nothing short of perfect as Madhavan’s snide mom in Manmadhan Ambu. And here, as a loyal housekeeper who won’t stop short of murder, I’m dying to watch her in it.
Most reviews seem to be dissing the movie. I don’t much care about it being macabre… that’s the point of such a flick – being a black comedy it’s supposed to present gruesome acts in a cute, sympathetic way that the juxtaposition shocks you. One review however got me down… it said the flick could have been so, so much more, and that Priyanka Chopra’s character is never explored much. *Sigh*
I guess this will turn out to be a colossal disappointment much like 90% of the movies I’ve waited for with bated breath. The most colossal disappointment I’ve had is Hey Ram. God the pre-release hype! Especially when it’s a bilingual, especially when the tags for the movie would be Gandhi, Independence, Partition, Kamal Haasan, Ilaiyaraja, Shah Rukh Khan, Kavignar Vaali, Hema Malini, Rani Mukherjee, Godse, Religious Riots, Kamal Haasan’s directorial debut, Kissing, and apart from all that, a very Iyengar-looking Bangalore girl (from MCC, no less) in the lead role hyped it extremely for me. The trailers, the music were all totally something. And then finally watching it…. god, what a damp squib. In the words of my aunt, “Tamizhum, Hindi-yum, Bengali-yum kalandhu onnume puriyala…. illa, onnu mattum purinjadu – Kamal thaan hero-nu“. [In the unholy mix that was the arbit usage of Hindi, Tamil and Bengali, all I could grasp was that Kamal was the hero].
But, you know what, I’d probably not care much if it did turn out to be a bad movie. I consider every movie an experience by itself. You don’t gain much from watching a bad movie, yes, but then, you don’t gain much by watching a good movie either. At max, watching movies opens up your imagination. Normally we’d all have super unconstrained imaginations, but given the barrage of movies, television and other media, we sort of begin thinking in a constrained way, and to keep it rich and vivid and active, we need to load up on as much information and as many narrative styles as we can manage.
Or maybe, I watch movies with the hope that something in them will be able to help me bring together all the little blips of inspired storytelling that flash to me at the randomest of times, into a coherent story. And each time I watch a bad movie, there’s already a framework for me to think in, and armchair filmmaking, whining about how this scene could have had ten times the impact if only this actor had done that and the other actor had done this, is a good enough starting point.
After a long time, I watched the video of the remixed, hip-hop song Madai Thiranthu by Yogi B and Natchathira. When I watched it for the first time, the beginning didn’t make sense to me. One guy says, “Inna, Raja-saar?“. I later found out the ‘Raja-saar’ in question was Ilayaraja, who’d composed the original.
I wanted to listen to the original yesterday. Good ol’ Guruji dot come slash music came in handy. I searched for Ilayaraja, and man! I’d never realized before this that so many of the songs I grew up listening to were from him!
For starters, the soundtrack of Hey Ram. Each song is so rich by itself. I particularly liked the fusion of Vaishnav Jana To with Vaaranam Aayiram with South Indian wedding beats.
Another movie set in the same time-frame – Sirai Chaalai, dubbed in Hindi as Kalapani.
And then Agni Natchathiram. I didn’t pay attention to the storyline or anything, but I totally loved the tapori Raja Rajadhirajan indha raja which had in it typical ’80s disco beats. It totally suited its purpose – it was the intro track of a totally rebellious youngster (played by Karthik, who ceased to be a youngster a decade-and-a-half back), which instantaneously won a lot of hearts.
On the same lines there is Ilamai idho idho from Sakalakala Vallavan. Intro track of a richkid Kamal Haasan who’s actually a poor do-gooder in disguise to teach the baddies a lesson. He wears a blonde wig, and says “Hyappy nyu yeear yevverybody”… this was ten-fifteen years before his ‘I’m in the undezhhbeolly uf the aizhhczhaft’. Whatae lyrics… “College teenage penngaL ellorum enn-meedhu kaNgaL“… whou… ages since any song acknowledged the existence of women ogling at men, and even longer since a man flaunted that in his intro song. Rather liked this song after it was used to great effect in a Pepsi commercial starring Madhavan and a bunch of ‘college-teenage penngaL’… and a fat guy in a vest and lungi and a squeaky voice… and a Pepsi bottle.
Rather surprising is Raja-saar’s success in dik-chik dik-chik disco tracks, considering his best-known work is for Bharathiraja films. Which mostly if not always have a village theme.
One of those really nostalgic songs is Adi Aathadi from Kadalora KavithaigaL. Sathyaraj playing a village idiot… whoa! Insane movie, but very well-directed. And the music… no words left.
The soundtrack for the Parthiban-Nandita Das (yes, of 1947-Earth and Rockford fame) starrer Azhagi was another. It is a rather recent movie, with the first half set in a village. In an age where you only heard jing-chak urban songs and village meant gaana (think Pettai Rap and Nakka Mukka), it was really refreshing to have some different music, which was a throwback to an earlier era personified by Bharathiraja introducing the movie with “Enn iniya Tamizh-makkaLe…“.
He also did neutral-ish tracks well – sample Nizhalgal. Madai Thiranthu was about a wannabe making it big in the music industry.
And Anjali – staple Children’s Day fare in the days of Doordarshan. One of the very few movies for kids back then, it enjoyed cult status with folks of my age-group. And hence the soundtrack was popular too. The videos were of kids bossing over the adults… having code claps… screaming ‘yaaay!’ all the damn time… ubercool gang… what more does a kid aspire for?
And my favourite at the moment – the soundtrack of Nayagan. In particular, the ‘item number’ – Nila adhu vaanathu mele. Insane lyrics that make no sense to me. But catchy. And the tune is no less.
When I was playing these tracks, my sister looked askance at me and gave me an expression which suggested my tastes had steadily deteriorated. She doesn’t know the nostalgia these tracks inspire, being born when Rehman had begun to reign and gotten interested in music when Himesh did. She doesn’t know these are the best there was back then, when synthesizers were a non-existent entity. To her ears, Ilayaraja sounds tacky – neither the mellow respectable tone of old songs nor the snazzy attractiveness of the new. And his voice… too forceful for someone that looks like him. And vocal sound-effects like ‘ta-jing, ta-jing’ have become slotted into uncool. The disco-ish beats of the faster songs sounds confused to her, who is used to It’s the time to Disco and Where’s the party tonight. The videos of these songs aren’t very inspiring to her, considering they were shot in an era where a nightclub was supposed to have bright colourful bulbs, and tackily dressed dancers.
She wonders how come Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu got voted as one of the top 10 songs of the millennium in a BBC-conducted online poll. Why not Rehman’s Vande Mataram?
Rehman is God in his own way, no doubt… I’m very impressed by the artfully-out-of-tune songs he composes – Kabhi Neem Neem and Yaaro Yaarodi, and I worship a lot of his other soundtracks, but of late I’ve begun to feel his songs lack the boldness and confidence Ilayaraja’s had. His songs do not bring out the beauty in lyrics or in the voice of the singer as much as Ilayaraja’s does.
A decade earlier, I would have said Rehman’s is for the urban elite, while Ilayaraja appeals to a wider section of the crowd… but now in the natural scheme of things, you have everyone in India not just TN humming Rehman’s tunes, and folks don’t much remember Ilayaraja’s usage of orchestras creatively in his music.. either ways, he didn’t get much reach outside of his home state… and maybe in Karnataka, thanks to soundtracks like Geetha(think Jothe Jotheyali). And Gultland, thanks to dubbed Tamil movies.
But finally, I’ll Raja-saar’s music has an earthy appeal to it. They are easy to sing, unlike other recent songs which rely less on the voice and more on effects. Even if you sing it wrong, it doesn’t sound so far-gone. It’s almost like he gets into the mind of the wannabe crooner and writes songs. Like he sings in the item number from Nayagan, ‘Adi Aathadi, naan paattaLi, unn koottaaLi‘ – ‘Lady, I’m a commoner, your comrade’.
PS: If you have no clue as to who Raja-saar is, he originally composed the music that was used in the soundtrack of Cheeni Kum.
PPS: This isn’t a very well-researched post. Please feel free to correct and provide addenda.
PPPS: What’s with my overwhelming Tam-ness these days? I’ve even begun to say ‘Yaazhpanam’ instead of Jaffna! My mum is beginning to wonder what is happening to me that I’m going ‘astray’ into deep interior Tamil Nadu from Bangalore, preferring Ilayaraja over Rehman, saying Ponniyin Selvan is an excellent book, reading Naachiyar Thirumozhi… maybe it’s just a phase. And… I’m still a true-blue Bangalorean at heart. I prefer MTR/Maiya’s over Adyar Ananda Bhavan any given day. And I is still the speakings of Benglur longvages. I’m sure you can be considerate enough to ignore the slight Tamil accent in my otherwise okay-ish Kannada. Oh, and I can read Kannada faster than I can read Tamil.
Been ages since I did one of those movie-music-list posts. So here we go again.
There are many times when I’ve been totally floored by just one tiny scene in an entire movie, even if the rest of the movie is quite sucky. Some scenes are very poignant, the sort of ‘defining moment’, the sort that make their point very well. Basically these scenes are the ones responsible for dramatic changes in your emotional state, the ones that make your heart stop, or race, or put a smile on your face, or make you wince and squirm, or left you speechless for the rest of the movie and gave you something to talk about to the rest of the world.
- The climax of Siraichaalai/Kalapani: Amrish Puri is the dreaded Afghan jailor in the Andamans who inflicts untold misery on the prisoners. Mohanlal has been wrongly convicted and has to serve a sentence in Kalapani. Prabhu is the revolutionary who tries to escape (and fails) multiple times and so gets the worst of Amrish Puri. Tabu is Mohanlal’s wife, who has contacted a friendly British officer who manages to get a release order for Mohanlal. Prabhu has been shot in an ‘encounter’. Mohanlal is infuriated, and wants to put an end to the brutality inflicted upon all the prisoners. The officer runs in to the prison with the release order. Just then he sees Mohanlal ram an iron rod into Amrish Puri’s throat. He screams a ‘No….’, and crushes the release order he’s holding in his hand.
- The escape scene in Siraichaalai/Kalapani: Elaborate plans have been made and executed by a band of prisoners led by Delhi Ganesh, to escape on a German steamer after blowing up the jail. Everything’s going according to plan. The sticks of dynamite are in place. When they strike matches to light them, it begins to rain.
- The scenes after Aparna and Apu are back home after their wedding in Apur Sansar. It just showed them going about their daily routine. But there was something about the way it was executed that was so poignant, that made their chemistry so palpable. There were no sweet nothings exchanged, there’s hardly any dialogue even. But you still sense the newlyweds-in-bliss feeling, something Mani Ratnam tries hard to achieve, but doesn’t quite get there. Sample: the scenes in Bombay where Manisha Koirala and Arvind Swamy can’t get their hands off each other and at the same time look so ill at ease with each other.
- The scene in Cyanide where all the LTTE militants are seeing their life flash before their eyes while biting the cyanide capsules. That is one point when you actually feel some semblance of pity towards them.
- The one in The Prestige where you see the duplicate drowning, and then you understand how the trick is done.
- In Alaipaayuthey, where you see the opening scenes repeated near the end, after you know Shalini’s suffered an accident, and Madhavan is still unaware of that fact, and he’s teasing, joking, unaware of what is to come…
- The song Kaadhal Sadugudu in Alaipaayuthey. Seems so common, everyday, but the little details are well taken care of, leaving the larger picture to the imagination.
- The last scene in Thiruda Thiruda, where Prashant and Rehman, mercenaries to the core, are each ‘sacrificing’ the girl (Heera Rajagopal) for the other and taking the money as consolation… until she begins to yell at them, asking if they think she is something to be bargained about… and chases them out of the frame. What makes this scene all the more better is that throughout the movie, you are kept guessing as to who likes Heera, and who she likes.
- Panchathanthiram‘s penultimate scene, when all of Kamal’s friends denounce him and leave him, out of fear of their wives, and the doctor telling him right after that his wife might not live. A couple of minutes of torment, when he realizes he’s got it all wrong giving his friends priority over his wife… and then everything resolves itself in true Crazy Mohan style.
- Last scene of Aayutha Ezhuthu where the evil politician Bharathiraja congratulates Surya and his party members on making it to the Legislative Assembly. Now there’s politics, you feel like saying.
- The scene in Anbe Sivam where Madhavan says he’s scared of blood, and almost confesses as to why. He loosens his guard a bit to tell Kamal Haasan that his brother at age ten was hit by a cricket ball and bled to death before they could reach a hospital… he just about lets it slip that it was he who hurled the fatal cork ball, before his guard comes back on and he slips into denial again. Just a brief glimpse of the kid he still is, and then he’s back to being the always-unsatisfied ad-filmmaker.
- The one in Hey Ram after the riots when Kamal Haasan sees his now-dead wife’s (Rani Mukherjee’s) painting on someone else’s wall.
- Hey Ram when Vasundhara Das is singing Vaishnav Jan To when Kamal Haasan comes for the bride-seeing. She chooses a very high pitch, and her mother (played by Hema Malini) is worried whether she’ll go off key when she hits the high notes. She hits the high notes, doesn’t go offkey. Hema Malini sighs. Vasundhara looks back and gives a smile of achievement while continuing to sing. What I liked about this scene was the very perfect Iyengarish touch to it. Guess that would have to have been achieved, considering most if not all of those cast in that scene, and in the following scene of Kamal’s and Vasundhara’s wedding, were Iyengar – Hema Malini, Vasundhara Das, Vaali, Kamal Haasan, YG Mahendran.. and a few others whose names I’ve forgotten. The best touch was when a wedding guest scolds the naadaswaram player – ‘Seevadi-ya chappindirukkadaeL’… the total busybody touch.
- In The Holiday, when Kate Winslet realizes that she’s recently acquired some… gumption.
- In Keladi Kanmani, when Ramesh Arvind is rather dissed with his girlfriend for not turning up for their date on his birthday, and vents out his frustrations. She patiently hears him out, before calmly telling him that that was when she fainted, and found out after a doctor’s visit that she’s not going to live much longer.
- Balram Naidu’s intro scene in Dasaavatharam. He exudes Gultness with every atom of his being – right from accent to ringtone.
- The ‘Ek gaon mein ek kisan rehta tha’ scene from Indru pei naalai vaa. I don’t think I need to elaborate any more, because words won’t bring the magic of the scene to those who haven’t watched it, and for those who have, I don’t need to say anything further.
- I forget the name of this movie, but remember everything else about it rather well. It was produced by Sun TV, and it starred Radhika. She played a very Indian not-very-educated housewife in UK, whose husband left her for someone else, and she is left all alone, with two daughters to take care of. Vikram (of Anniyan fame) was her Indian neighbor who gave her moral support. She tells hims she doesn’t understand why her younger daughter has resumed bedwetting. He appears to share her perplexity, but just as soon as the child is fast asleep in another room, he gently asks her if she cries in front of her children. When she nods, he very politely, caringly says not to, because her children would lose their courage and begin to feel insecure. And casts a lingering look before he leaves. [Aside: This one was where Vikram looked and sounded his best IMO. Yuppie glasses, polite demeanor, formal clothes, guy-next-door appeal, and being the soothing foil to Radhika's helplessness... where the hell is this part of him gone? All he does now is some shite porikki role.]
- Madhavan and Geetu Mohandas in Nala Damayanti, in the third-to-last scene where they are telling the folks at the immigration office why they are in love and want to get married. Maybe this is not what happens in an interview for Australian citizenship, but who cares when they are spouting such sweet dialogues.
- The entire movie Avvai Shanmughi aka Chachi 420. Where do I start? Where do I end? The Hindi version wasn’t so awesome, but the Tamil one is IMO Crazy Mohan’s magnum opus. Such a well-crafted script, appealing to different people at different levels… And I haven’t seen another flick with the Iyer aspect so well-portrayed without the slightest hint of stereotyping or disdain. I can only put a few samples here.
- Manivannan’s love-at-first-sight on seeing Kamal in disguise. The otherwise roughshod man turning into a lovesick guy who reads between the lines when a flower falls on him, or when (s)he holds his hand
- Kamal’s deft gestures – One second he’s gesturing to his daughter on how to tune the video, and when he senses other eyes on him, he switches so deftly to gesturing his daughter to come to him. And when he’s instructing Nasser on what to say, he makes his fierce nods so impossible to tell from an innocent turn of the body when he’s feeding his daughter.
- The scene where Gemini Ganesan is giving wads of cash to Nagesh, supposing he’s Shanmughi’s husband. So rife with pun and double entendre.. it needs to be watched to be appreciated.
- Basically, the whole absurdity of so many men vying for an aged lady well past her prime, and so many women doubting her character being one of the underlying themes, and how well this has been treated by the scriptwriter, so well that you’ll believe it… this is what makes the movie what it is.
You might have noticed bulk of the movies here are Tamil. Understandable, considering it’s my mother tongue, and that I frequent Tamil movie channels more than others. But virtually no Bollywood movie makes it here. That was one thing that surprised me, too, considering I watch a good number of Bollywood movies too. Guess it is because most of those I’ve watched are from the ’90s, when thoughtful movies had become totally nonexistent. No single scene in a Hindi movie has warmed the cockles of my heart or made my brain cells go ‘Aha!’, or showed me a new emotion – which I’d not already seen in Tamil or Kannada or English movies, or least of all made me marvel at the well-made-ness of the scene. They might be entertaining, but thought-provoking… naaaaaah, not unless you count thoughts like “Why the hell am I even watching this?”.