Jul 23, 2016


Most of us would have seen the famous The Invisible Gorilla video; it startlingly exposes the extent of influence of selective attention in our thought process. Simply put, when you keep looking for something keenly, you end up missing many other things, some of them significant too. So when a long-time Rajni fan enters the theatre he restlessly keeps looking for - style, punch dialog, trademark comedy, high voltage fights, etc., in short, the 5-songs 5-fights template of Rajni. And rightly so, as these are the very things that have defined the Super Star. But in the process, Kabali, a don's story told from the heart, is likely to be missed. (Has been missed). As I write this, in spite of my best attempts to insulate myself from the instant reviews across social media and smart phones, it is clear more and more seats are remaining vacant across the halls in Tamil Nadu and the erstwhile-AP running Kabali. It is unfortunate. (Blame also lies in the trailer that focused only on the action-part, with a special stress on Neruppu da!).

The movie has one of the best performances of Rajni in the recent times. And as a film, Kabali is a well-packaged drama that has a Tamil leader as the central character. The movie opens with a high level meeting of Malaysian cops about release of the Tamil don (leader) Kabali who had completed a 25-year sentence. Then the famously leaked release scene. Rajni sparkles as the old don, who blooms again on getting united with his family, and who dashingly reclaims his space from a menacing Chinese don. The first half is beautifully written and performed. The very first action block that ends with Rajni freeing a multi-coloured parrot from one of the cages in a pet shop - is just the dictionary meaning of style. Also the next one, where  in a ship-breaking yard, Kabali crushes a baddie with his black Merc. Classic instance of star power and style. Such seeming subtle stunts, as against the usual 1 Vs 100 Rajni-fights like in Sivaji (2007), purely bank on the star's screen presence - and they have in deed delivered. Soon after the release, and the following stunt, Kabali comes to his house. This is a a well-written, highly emotional sequence, where the don is seen missing his wife terribly. Rajni has pulled it off with a highly matured performance. You feel his pain. 

Intermittently, the Chinese gangster Tony Lee (Winston Chao) appears. Perhaps, this character is the weakest link in the movie. More than a dreaded evil, Tony looks like a cross between a caricature and cartoon. Tony deserved more depth, better style, and definitely more brain. Veera (Kishore), a traitor-Tamil, is Tony's sidekick. Veera too deserved better dialogues, and more dignity. Nasser as Tamilnesan does justice to his limited footage in the flashback. Yes, the flashback sequence is going to be the most disappointing scenes for the fans, who were eagerly, and obviously looking for a Baasha-like (1995) experience. It is not going to happen anymore. Dot. But if you look at it, the flashback scenes are intelligently presented in the form of Kabali's answers to his students' queries. Perhaps, the makers were sure that it would be tough for us to endure the youth-look Rajni for 20 minutes at a stretch. (They were right). Here again, Rajni sparkles with exactly the right level of performance. The issues of Tamil labourers in Malaysia serves as the backdrop for the episode, in which a small-time leader transforms into a full-fledged don. Now comes the retrofitted ideology of the director, Pa.Ranjith. In  his earlier outing, Madras (2014), it was about the wall and who controlled it that symbolised social power; now it is a western attire. Nothing is left to imagination. Out of the blue, Kabali talks about why Gandhi shed his Western attire, and why Ambedkar was seen in suit and a tie.

In the middle of an action sequence where dozens of bullets keep flying in all directions, Kabali gets to know his daughter was alive, and that she was right there with him. Here again, the Super Star excels as an actor. You got to give it to him. Dhansika (as Yogi) as the daughter has carried out her task well. More emotionally loaded is the sequence wherein Kabali goes in search of his wife, finally lands up in Auroville and spends a night in the vicinity where presumably his wife was living right then. The entire block has been made from the heart, and it is just not possible to ignore Rajni's performance here. Radhika Apte (as Kumudhavalli) bowls us over with her acting. Very rarely, we have come across such genuinely emotional rides in a Rajni movie. Something last seen in Thalapathy (1991) perhaps, where Surya goes to see his mother.

The second half has good action, and for the old Rajni fans there is a lot in store in the climax sequence. (Lot of bullets, blood, etc. in the time-tested 1 Vs. 100 format). Strictly not for the kids and pregnant women! While the first half is about the old don finding his beliefs and roots, the second half is about his comeback and ascension with style. A few days back, this was my FB post:

"I think it is going to be Option (4) for Kabali. *** Endings for a don movie: (1) - The don gets killed - Nayagan, Thalapahty. (2) -The don forgives the villain and continues with his normal way of life - Baasha. (3)- The don fades into oblivion, and dies as a loner - The Godfather III. (4)- The don dies a natural, near-happy death - The Godfather. "

The end lies somewhere in between. It appears so.

Rajni has carried the movie on his shoulders with inimitable elan. But not in his usual form, but in a new, welcome avatar. Here is where the problem lies, possibly. But this is the only way forward for the Star. Next may be a family drama, or a powerful role for 30-40 minutes in  movie with someone else as the hero. But from the script perspective, the main issue lies with what looks like a forced insertion of caste colours in the story. What was projected as a fight for Tamil labourers right to begin with, is all of a sudden revealed as a clash between the genes, groups and castes within the Tamils. And this is kind of awkward for the story, though immensely relevant for the society. Given this point of view, it is easy to appreciate why our man Tony was made to behave like a long-faced fool. Anthony (in Baasha) looked deadly, even without uttering a single word; and that amplified the strength of the hero, the Super Star. But here, Tony behaves like our next-door Tommy in spite of his indiscriminate killings and infatuation with bullets.

Rajni has tried to adapt himself to the changing times by going with a young director, much like I desired. A bold but inevitable move. Hats off! But if there is one man whom team Kabali has to thank next to the Super Star, it is definitely Santosh Narayanan, the music director. The songs are at the top of the all charts. The back ground score is melodious, mysterious, peppy, dazzling, and electrifying - all rolled into one. Music, in fact, is the soul of the movie.

Kabali will be remembered as one of the landmark movies of the Super Star.

(I hope I have not missed any gorilla).

Jul 4, 2016

Divine inspiration

Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada is one of the best albums by ARR in the recent history. And special credits to GVM for beautifully packaging the numbers - with a series of what seem to be shooting stills, self-indulgent photos from his personal album and video nuggets of the singers performing - and releasing them over a period of time right from the first month of the year. While the firstly launched single Thalli pogathey.. with all its beats and deep lyrics, is a high-voltage melody that is never going to truly leave you, the soulful rendition of Pavendhar Bharathidasan's Avalum naanum.. is bound to take you to a higher level of calm and is not generally advised after a good lunch. But the most interesting song, if it may be said so, is Rasaali.. And more than a song, with all its liberal adventure across the genres, it qualifies to be a fantastic medley (Ha! Don't throw stones at me). And the greatest and enjoyable medley till date.

But in spite of the best attempt at a dazzling musical collage for a bike journey by the leading pair, the moment I hear Rasaali, though the youthful Simbu and the simple Manjima flash in my mind, very soon I can only see, hear and think of - TMS. (With the occasional image of a chubby boy jumping around with a vel in his hand and crown over his head). Composed by Arunagirinadhar, a saint-poet, Thirupugazh is a collection of Tamil hymns in praise of God Murugan. And the popularity of one of the songs, Muthai tharu..., should have skyrocketed after TMS lent his voice for the verse in a movie about the poet that was released more than 50 years ago. Till this date, TMS' Muthai tharu.. reverberates from the old-fashioned loudspeakers throughout the days of Shasti even in the remotest villages of Tamil Nadu (Yes, I have not actually checked all the villages). And what a lyrics man! It is a real tongue-twister that takes support from the richness of the language. There have been many attempts at the song by different types of singers; and the genius violinist Kunakkudi Vaidyanthan too has rendered it. In a way, I am happy that ARR has got a Divine (Devotional?) inspiration for a GVM movie. Thirupugazh is getting more famous.

When Murugan, the second one of the Siva-Parvathi family, has a Kollywood duet number to his credit, can the elder one, God Pillayar be missed out? No. Our composers have maintained parity. I come from a school that is like a Hindu island amidst an ocean of Christian missionary schools run by different congregations like the CSI, Jesuits, etc. It means that in our school, we had prayers (mainly the Sanskrit ones) for every conceivable occasion: the commencement of the day-before the first bell of the day, the start of the day's classes in your classrooms, before breaking for lunch, just after the final bell of the day-end of classes, etc. One of my favourite Gods during those day was Pillayar a.k.a Ganesha, and it was mainly for the reason that he had the powers to grant what you wished for (Usually, 5-7 extra marks in Physics and some coconut-rich kolukattai). Mudaa-Karaatta slogam, from Ganesha Pancharatnam, extols the elephant-headed God and calls every one of us to surrender to Him. Though it was not frequently sung in my school, I have heard it sometime during the school days. Kollywood has paid its salutes to the elder brother in its 1990 Parthiban-starrer, Thalattu Padava. At the start of the song (the scene) the hero, a pious man, is seen singing Mudaa-Karaatta with folded arms and closed eyes, standing next to a black Ganesha idol resting under a tree. Just when he is about to start the third verse or so, the lady enters, takes it forward from where she snatched, sings the next verse for him and goes on to complete the hymn. Soon, overcome by inexplicable, romantic emotions, while maintaining the tune of Pancharatnam, she makes her own verses - and starts signing in praise of her man. Wow! And soon, Raja sir bowls us over with an interlude. Quickly, after some top angle and tracking shots, we see the pair in different costumes running up and down the green hills. Check it out, you will feel good.

Again, its Murugan's turn now. But it is awful this time around. Kanda Shasti Kavasam (the version by the Soolamangalam sisters) is one of the most famous devotional songs of the state; it is also one of the most popular Tamil hymns. Every living thing in the state would have heard the song (in praise of Murugan) at least once in its lifetime. It is like the filter coffee and idli-chutney. Omnipresent. May be omnipotent too. Composed by Deva, Kollywood's tribute to Shasti Kavasam was in the blockbuster Suriyan (1992). Getting inspiration (Divine) for a tune is one thing; but to know to make use of it in a somewhat dignified manner is something else. In this song from Suriyan, the legendary poet Vaali perhaps just forgot the source of the tune and went on to write a jolly, duet song, happily. The song starts with something like this: 

'The teenage, tender heart yearns for the bed..

And it is just the beginning. I hope (unlike I remember TMS on Rasaali), the young kids don't imagine of actress Roja while chanting Shasti Kavasam in the evenings

In Hari's Thaamirabharani (2007), singer L.R.Eswari's soulful Karpoora Nayagiye Kanagavalli... on Goddess Amman was picturised in his usual pace with lots of mass and colours, in short - like a kuthu paatu. Who comes up with such thoughts, of mixing kuthu paattu and Shasti Kavasm! The lead pair, surrounded by hundreds of group dancers (assembled like a TCS 5K run), dance wildly with a lot of facial and body expressions. The lady is clad in the basic essentials, while the hero has a touch of tradition. And true to Hari, there is technically no costume change, there is only change in colour of the costumes. You get to learn a lot form this song. Among other things, you will also understand how  to pack the maximum number of side artists in a duet song. I think there are around a million of them, easily. The cinematographer has made his own contribution by way of tilting the camera and creating a roller-coaster effect, and enveloping us in a spell of dizziness. Salutes to the dance master too - just checkout the hero around the 3rd minute (3:01 - 3:08) of the song. I just hope none of these images comes to you while you get to hear the devotional version next time. 

Back to ARR. There was a glimpse of a Divine inspiration in his May Madham (1994). Back then it was something fresh. Enjoyable. The embryo days of tradition meeting technology.

(c)The video songs presented here are purely for educative and reference purposes only; 
there are no other commercial motives.)