Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nadunisi Naigal: A Bold New Experiment

Gautam Vasudev Menon has attempted something different and fortunately it is not something that is different for different’s sake. His story about a serial – killer who is trying to figure out whether he is a romantic at heart or a horny, murdering bastard while trying to escape the ravages of a traumatic past is a masterly effort and somehow manages to be sincere despite the director’s occasional nods to the demands of convention.
Tamil cinema does not know it yet but this film is one of the best things that has happened to it. Finally we have a film that is not a disgrace to its genre. Nadunisi Naigal is a psychological thriller and makes no bones about it. New face Veera makes a dazzling debut with his turn as the schizophrenic killer. Sameera Reddy as the damsel in distress also does a neat job.
Gautam Menon has clearly come a long way from his Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu days which was a desperately wannabe and unflinchingly pretentious flick on serial killers which made you snort so hard that you wound up embarrassing yourself in public. Nadunisi Naigal is a well – written movie that does not shy away from portraying a damaged and dangerous soul and unearthing the sordid secrets of his past which made him a killer. The maverick filmmaker maintains a racy pace for the most part but towards the end you wind up feeling that you are trapped in Gautam Menon’s warped imaginary realms along with Sameera Reddy. A minor grouse!
As for the ‘twist in the tale’, if you are a fan of this genre and have seen a certain Hitchcockian masterpiece you will figure it out at the very onset. But full credit to the director for managing to sustain your interest this fact notwithstanding. That’s the amazing thing about Tamil cinema and its new crop of talented film makers, just when you are about to give up on the lot of them they do something brave and blow your mind! Kudos to Gautam Vasudev Menon for having the guts to make a film like this.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Black Swan: Pretentious Pop Psychology Pap

Darren Aronofsky’s The Black Swan and Natalie Portman have struck gold this awards season. With all the hype and hoopla surrounding this flick plus the extremely interesting premise, I could not wait to watch it. And when I finally, got around to watching it, I found it to be a seriously disappointing cinematic experience.
Nina (Portman) is a dedicated ballerina, the perfect daughter, and nothing else. She spends her days obsessing about perfecting her ballet moves and returns straight home pausing only to experience delusions and hallucinations on the subway before rushing into mommy’s (Barbara Hershey) suffocating embrace. Her life changes when she lands the dream role of Odette/ Odile in her company’s production of Tchaikovsky’s immortal Swan Lake after the long – in – the - tooth prima ballerina played by Winona Ryder is kicked out.
The head of the company, Thomas (a sublime Vincent Cassell) tells Nina that she is perfect as the White Swan given her virginally pure looks and technical mastery of ballet. However, he is not sure she will be convincing as the sexy, seductive, uninhibited Black Swan although he thinks she has the potential to pull it off. He feels Lily (Mila Kunis) with her free – wheeling sexuality would be a more viable choice for the Black Swan and makes her the alternative. In what turns out to be a demonic move, a la Mephistopheles in Faust he orders her to go home and masturbate in order to er… loosen up a little and in inducing her to loosen the hinges of her inner repression he winds up pushing a troubled soul over the edge and causes her to become unhinged.
Nina, in her bid to transform into her character slips from her perfectly ordered world into one of chaos, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, self – mutilation, and destruction. The parallels that are drawn between her life and Swan Lake, a common enough bit of theatrics where onstage and offstage actions mirror each other are obvious but Aronofsky painstakingly and triumphantly spoon feeds this pap to us all the way to the long – drawn out and overwrought finale. It reminds one in a rather horrifying way of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and what he is capable of if given a free hand and an unlimited Hollywood – style budget.
Aronofsky is so obsessed with technique and stylistics that he fails to make Nina a real human being, the audience can identify with. And her descent to psychosis is far from convincing. From stealing things, tearing out her fingernails, and scratching her back a tad too violently she makes the transition to a raving lunatic rather too abruptly. And like Nina, after a point even you have trouble figuring out what is real and what is not. This deliberate withholding of pertinent details and leaving plot points to the imagination might be considered by some to be artistically brilliant but in this case it is a lame cop – out as Aronofsky prefers to take a theatrical short – cut and chicken out of truly plumbing the inner recesses of Nina’s psyche and contents himself with some superficial and ineffectual probing. Martin Scorsese did a brilliant job of exploring the unraveling of Howard Hughes’ mind in the Aviator and Aronofsky would have done well to take a page out of his book.
As for Portman’s academy – winning performance, all I can say is WHAT A GYP! I think the voters felt guilty for not giving her the deserved Oscar for Closer and decided to make it up to her. For Nina is truly annoying and what makes the whole thing worse is that it is a one – woman show and a blatant academy award vehicle for Portman. She wears a perpetually tortured expression in practically every scene and finally you want to shove her off the cliff of sanity on which she is teetering yourself. Much has been made out of how physically demanding this role has been for her as she took 20 pounds off her already emaciated frame. But the results are disappointing. She looks positively skeletal with her skin – drawn tautly over the skull which is all that is left of her face and way older that the ageing ballerina she is replacing. Dewy – skinned Lily would have been the obvious choice for the lead in real life. And as for her dancing we have only Thomas’ word that it is excellent. To be fair, there are flashes of brilliance in her portrayal of Nina particularly in the ‘horror’ moments but ultimately it has got to be one of the most over – rated performances of all time.
As regards the critical acclaim and the awards handed out to this stupid, pretentious, over – the – top, stylistic but lacking in substance, below – average, pseudo – intellectual, cheesy flick all I can say is that perhaps it is time the Hollywood head honchos got over themselves. Already!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Aadukalam: Of Schmucks and Suffering

Vetrimaran's Aadukalam is the tale of a young man,Karupu whose blind trust is repaid with betrayal. The director takes you into a world where a man's honour is tied to his cock or prize rooster if you prefer, where friends become bitter foes over imagined quarrels, and where lives are sacrificed in order to nurse an old man's injured pride. It has a good script, is technically sound, has great music, and boasts of some fine performances. And yet it missed its mark for this reviewer.

Why is that? On paper it is an interesting concept to study the extremes of human nature but on the big screen when you are subjected to gritty scenes depicting the sheer misery of the human condition brought on by the petty foibles that characterize our lot, it gets really depressing. Having your spirit lacerated by the sufferings of the schmucks, on screen is far from a pleasurable experience. Vetrimaran is very talented but is not Shakespearean enough to sell tragedy on such a scale to the audience.

Yes, I say schmucks because Karupu (Danush) and Dorai (Kishore) are blinded by their own stupidity and are largely responsible for their lives falling apart. The Iago inspired Pettaikaran(Jayabalan)who is the mentor and boss of the two men becomes jealous when Karupu steals his thunder at a cock - fighting tournament and is worried that his younger assistants will have him put to pasture. So he decides to turn them against each other and destroy Karupu in the process. The machinations of the old man lead to tragic consequences and an unexpected climax, though one wishes Karupu had shown more gumption when he found out about the betrayal.

Dhanush is impressive in this movie and so is Kishore. Jayabalan as the evil old man who stings with a gentle smile and an arm thrown over your shoulder is disturbing. Taapsee as Karupu's love interest suits her character to the letter. Kudos to Vetrimaran for extracting such brilliant performances. But perhaps in his next movie he will forego the pity- party and return to his rocking Polladhavan days.

Last Word: You can watch it once for the innovative script and the performances if you don't mind getting a severe case of the blues.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kaavalan - Boring Bodyguard!

Watching a movie like Kaavalan is like popping a piece of gum in your mouth only to discover that every last bit of flavor has been sucked out of it. You chew on in confusion and just when you have given up on it and are getting ready to spit it out your mouth is flooded with a burst of gorgeous flavor. But by then it is too little too late and you spit it out nevertheless. Not the most elegant of metaphors but that is Kaavalan in a nutshell for you.

Vijay plays Bhuminadhan who is roped in to play bodyguard to a goon turned respectable gentleman named Muthuramalingam. Incidentally the said gentleman saved a yet -to - be -born Vijay and his mommy from sure death so grown- up Vijay holds him in great esteem. Muthuramalingam's household includes a moody wife (Roja), a beautiful daughter, Meera (Asin) and a visiting buddy of Meera's, Madhu. And Vadivel follows Vijay around to provide comic relief.

Vijay is assigned the task of protecting Meera from some bad guys and dutifully accompanies her to her college. Playful Meera makes a prank call to her too - strict bodyguard to get him to lighten up (without revealing her identity) and sets in motion a series of events that changes the lives of them all. It is an interesting premise but unfortunately the director, Siddique's treatment of this concept leaves a lot to be desired.

The 'different'love story that unfolds on screen gets really trying after a point and makes you impatient with Meera as well as her lover (who is kinda confused as to who exactly he is in love with). Meera we are assured has a heart of gold but given her conniving ways and the ease with which she toys with the hero's emotions she comes across as a conniving witch (or something which rhymes with it). And then we have the hapless lover, Bhuminadhan who is hopelessly in love with a voice on the phone and spends his time cuddling the phone and mooning over the carefully modulated 'sweet' voice. And of course he takes the time out to break into a song and dance routine or a fight sequence which are both mandatory in Vijay films.

And so it goes on and on with Meera continuing to pull on the hearstrings of her lovesick puppet as she becomes more and more embroiled in her own plot. Kaavalan continues in this vein till you become sick of it all and wonder if Siddique had fallen asleep while filming this giant bore of a film. And then towards the end of the flick when you are thinking of walking out and swearing off Vijay films for life, there is a dramatic twist in the tale that sucks you back into the lives of the hitherto insipid characters. A dull flick that was meandering along lazily suddenly becomes a gripping human drama. And then it is all over and you walk out in a daze.

Vijay is a wonderful performer and turns in a solid performance. He is particularly good in the climax. Asin is rather disappointing with a heavily made - up face and a wooden performance. The supporting cast has little to do. Vadivel tries his darndest to elicit some laughter but there are hardly any funny moments in the film.

Last word: Give it a miss.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Siruthai: Average fare Awesome Karthi!

Siruthai is intended to be a complete entertainer with liberal proportions of humour and blood. So we have Karthi in a dual role - Rocket Raja who doles out the comedy bits and Rathnavel Pandian IPS who gets to spew forth pages of 'dialogue' and beat the stuffing out of the bad boys.

KArthi absolutely rocks in his Rocket Raja avatar. And Santhanam as his side - kick is howlarious. Between the two of them they had the audience in paroxysms of mind - blowing mirth. Karthi has made the lovable rapscallion character truly memorable and endearing as he lies, bluffs, loves, and frolics his way through a film mired with pitfalls. This dude has the makings of a superstar and someday, his fans in Tamil Nadu will cheerfully build shrines honouring him or make him the CM if he so desires.

As for Rathnavel Pandian, first of all why did the makers choose this particular moniker? It draws comparison with Alex Pandian, the character Rajnikanth immortalized in Moonru Mugam as the greatest screen cop of all time and places too heavy a burden on the talented shoulders of KArthi. Besides this character is horribly written and is beleaguered with truly awful lines. (There were times I had to admire Karthi for mouthing the cheesy dialogue without choking or puking his guts outs, I am guessing those bits were edited out)That being said he still does a tremendous job with the lousy material he had to work on. Therefore, while Rathnavel Pandian is not likely to be venerated he won't be execrated either. And Rocket Raja more than makes up for the deficits, so the film is saved somewhat.

The director, Siva maintains a rollicking pace throughout except for the flashback which follows the lamentable career of Rathnavel PAndian through its highs and lows, but I daresay it will strike the right chords with the audience for which it was intended. Needless to add, the cop is heartbreakingly upright and spills his blood for 'the people' and the villians - Bhavuji, his brother Bhadra, and rapist son are perfect caricatures of blackhearted villains who rob, burn, murder etc. with earthy gusto and cackling laughter. Their evil henchmen complete the picture with unwashed hair, rotting teeth, and serious weight and anger issues.

This portions of the film lags as there is too much heavy - handed sentiment, crappy dialogues, and unnecessary violence. But just when you are thinking that Rathnavel Pandian should hurry up and die instead of inexplicably hopping back and forth between his hospital bed and the bylanes of Chennai while continuing to thrash the bad guys the makers oblige by finishing him off. Then Rocket Raja comes back into the picture like a breath of fresh air amidst all the enervating staleness with his not - so trusty sidekick and makes you laugh almost all the way to the finish line.

Tamanna aside from making you wonder how she maintains such a fabulous body is largely forgettable. Her character has little to do besides fluttering her false lashes and flitting about like a pretty butterfly. The music is another letdown with only 'Rocket Raja' being hum - worthy. The other songs are hard on the ears and eyes and stuck in all over the place like unnecessary appendages.

Siruthai has a distinct telugu flavor to it owing no doubt to the fact that it is a remake of a Ravi Teja flick. One wonders if this will sit well with the Tamil audience.

Last word: Watch this one for Karthi.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Man Madan Ambu - Yummy Masala Mix

Man Madhan Ambu is a good movie. No argument there. It makes for enjoyable viewing but what irks me is that it could have been a great movie but falls short by a mile. The director K. S. Ravikumar and Kamal Hasan are master craftsmen and yet when they get together they feel compelled to showcase every single weapon in their collective arsenal which leaves the movie dangerously close to an implosion.

We all know that Kamal Hassan is a versatile actor who does comedy, tragedy, sentiment, action, etc. etc. with equal ease. But everyone who works with the dude makes it a point to drive this home and with a sledgehammer at that. The resultant genre - blending can get dizzying and seriously annoying. Sometimes it is important to decide at the onset whether you are making a farce - type comedy or a seriously emotional drama.

That being said the disparate elements that comprise this flick are really beautiful. The love story is wonderfully nuanced and sensitively portrayed. There are some seriously funny gags so the comedy bits are also good. However the manufactured drama and comedy gets a little tedious towards the end when it unravels in an all - out goofball fest.

There are some good performances that contribute towards engaging the audience despite the shortcomings mentioned above. Kamal Hassan is awesome! And then some. How does he do it? He looks great and is very much in his element as arguably the greatest actor this country has produced. His talent as an actor is matched only by his singing. The haunting "neela vaanam" number is guaranteed to make the crustiest soul in the audience weep. Trisha is surprisingly decent and looks gorgeous. Madhavan plays a thankless character, that of a rich, insensitive, crude, jerk/pig but is nevertheless a hoot. A testament to his growing prowess as an actor.

Nobody and I mean nobody does flashbacks quite like Ravikumar and he has outdone himself with this one. An entire song shot in reverse depicts a tragic and heart - warming love story with none of the "lets shamelessly manipulate audience sentiment for all its worth" crap.

The music is another plus. Devi Sri Prasad is really good.

Man MAdhan Ambu gets 7/10, but it could have scored a ten.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Letter to TIME

I sent a letter to TIME in response to Joel Stein's awesome column entitled "The Awesome Column",9171,2033072,00.html They published two lines from my somewhat long - winded letter in this week's edition. (Sighs) Anyways here is the rest of it.

Reading Joel Stein’s awesome column on how his particular brand of narcissistic writing changed the world of journalism forever, reminded me of a definitive moment in my own writing career.
I first read Joel Stein’s column in 2002, on my first day in college. Feeling more than a little nervy, I had borrowed Dad’s Time magazine so that I could pretend to be the intellectual type and hopefully make a decent impression (notice the almost obsessive use of ‘I’). If I hadn’t been feeling dreadfully inadequate and homesick, it would have been nigh impossible for me to wade through the morass of high – brow and somewhat pretentious articles in the magazine. Somehow I fought my way through the treacherous terrain Time had set me and arrived at Stein’s column on the fag end of the magazine and was completely blown away.
Stein had elaborated at length about his first time on the couch, extreme love for pornography, therapist mom, and his inability to feel anything past a passion for simulated passion. All this in the interest of avoiding writing a well – researched, scientific article for that month’s issue based on health (or was it science?)
I loved the piece and could not help loving the guy for writing exactly the way I did. Sure, my similarly “sophomoric, solipsistic, snarky” articles got a lot of heat for their “morally dubious content” and I had been warned that writing in the first person was not the way to go, if one wished to achieve literary greatness. But here was a guy whose column with its predominant focus on porn and sickly self – love, had made it to Time magazine! And if that were not enough, his was the standout number in an otherwise staid and stuffy publication. Thanks to this remarkable phenomenon, I allowed myself to dream of winning the Booker, writing the way I did and have been pursuing the said course with due diligence.
Thanks Joel Stein for giving me the courage to stick to my style – writing in the first person, with highly opinionated views, and private angst squeezed in for good measure. Of course at 26, I am a struggling writer trying to juggle motherhood and a stillborn career, while the fella who writes like me is making beaucoup bucks, schmoozing with celebs and supermodels, and appearing on TV to gravely pass his opinions on “100 hottest whatevers”. Perhaps I should sue… but I’d rather wait for one of the discerning editors at Time (a truly esteemed publication) to visit my blog, and offer me his / her job.