Movies

Movies are an integral part of my life. And so it would be for many others. This is in continuation to my insatiable hunger for movies; my views, reviews, kudoses and stinkers on those I have seen.

Rant of a superhero fan…

This post is triggered by the numerous hate responses to Man of Steel. As a person who loves comics in general and a fan of Christopher Nolan, I would like to address these concerns directly in a Q & A format. This will be split into two parts, first analyzing the Bat trilogy and the second addressing Man of Steel. Those who haven’t seen Man of Steel yet can still read the second part of the post as it does not contain spoilers. Skip it if you want to watch the movie with an open mind.

Part I – The Bat Trilogy

  • Why pick Batman?

Warner brothers had no idea of giving this a reboot. Batman has a riveting story that any director would want to tell. The previous movies and the old TV series might have been “good” for the time, but they had deviated way too far from the theme and essence that the comics conveyed. There was a new dimension that had to be brought to Batman to establish his true identity.

  • What was the story that was intended?

Nolan’s vision was to explore the character and build a story that was justifiable. The story had scope for character development, from showing the inner scars of Bruce Wayne to go on and show how he overcomes them to become a better person.

  • There are many villains in the Batman universe, why choose those who were chosen?

Thomas and Martha Wayne were killed by a street thief for petty money, which was during the depression. Bruce chooses to avenge his parents, but doesn’t have a roadmap as such. After numerous experiences in life, he chooses to use his wealth and intelligence to create a face that criminals would fear.

The first step would be to battle the gangs in Gotham, or the “mob”. The muggers and the crime lord Carmine Falcone are interconnected. A psychotic doctor, assuming the name Scarecrow, plans to release a fear toxin that will paralyze Gotham. It is also revealed that the Scarecrow was pressurized by Ras Al Gul to create and release a fear toxin. Henri Ducard is a detective who trains Bruce in the comics, but Nolan merged Ducard and Ras Al Gul to make an intricate plot for Batman Begins. Scarecrow uses the city’s organized crime to smuggle his toxin, acting on the orders of Ras; this makes way for a believable plot; as against bringing in a Penguin or a Riddler for the opening movies. The first movie established a solid foundation for the subsequent movies that followed.

Batman isn’t complete without the Joker. Nolan’s version of the Joker and Ledger’s rendition of it will probably be the best in the movie franchise; in parallel with Mark Hamill’s version in the cartoons. The origins of the Joker are as mysterious in the movie as they are in the comics. Nolan chose to expose the chaos that the Joker could unleash as a sociopathic character. He merged the origins of Two-face as an outcome of Joker’s actions, by adding a personal tragedy that pushes Harvey Dent to the ‘dark side’. Harvey’s killings form an important part of the story which lays the premise for the third movie.

Bane is a product of a drug test, as per the comics, and increases his strength by pumping the drug ‘Venom’. As for Catwoman, she was never a killer, Nolan stuck to the comics and treated her as a hired professional thief. He extrapolates the story of the League of Shadows and links Bane to it so create a continual contemporary storyline; thereby making a logical and realistic trilogy.

Throughout the trilogy, there is always a mix of villains that work together, to make to plot as believable as possible. Debates about the other villains like Poison Ivy, Riddler, Mad hatter, Killer Croc, Hugo Strange etc can be silenced; because frankly we didn’t miss them!

Now that we are done with the Bat trilogy, let’s get to Superman.

 Part II – Man of Steel

  • Why Superman?

This was another superhero franchise that never quite got what it deserved. It was very well worthy of the reboot. Riding on the success of the Bat trilogy, who better to be on board than Nolan, Goyer and Snyder; all of whom have a good track record.

  • What was the story that was intended?

The writers’ vision was to explore the character and build a story that was justifiable. The story had scope for character development, from showing how a misfit alien tries to align himself to the society to go on and lay a foundation for subsequent movies.

  • Why General Zod?

To explain this convincingly, we need to explore the origins of Superman as per the comics as and per the movie.

First, the comics –

Jor-El predicts that Krypton would cease to exist, but by the time he figures it out it is too late to save its entire people.  It becomes wildly unstable due to its radioactive core which results in frequent quakes. Kal-El [Superman] is sent to earth just so that he can be saved. Earth was chosen as it has a lower gravitational field and a brighter sun than Krypton; which implies Kal-El would possess superhuman powers.

Now the movie –

Krypton is shown to have births from separate incubation chambers and Kal-El is supposed to be the first natural birth in Krypton [after centuries]. Jor-El is the person who cracked this code for natural births and saves Kal-El and the code containing genetic information for natural births. I will avoid discussing about the code as it involves spoilers.

All that we need to understand is that there are reasons why Zod comes looking for Superman.

One – He believes that Kal-El has access to the genetic code which can help him rebuild Krypton

Two – Earth is a good planet to ‘terraform’ to Krypton [terraform = create the properties of one planet to match that of the other]

  • Character development of Kal-El

Kal-El is brought up as Clark Kent, by Jonathan and Martha Kent. The trauma that he undergoes as a child is depicted quite well, and I don’t find a reason to complain. Examples – Trying to adjust to the various sounds in daily life, focusing only on what he wants to hear or use his X-Ray vision only when needed, controlling his anger while bullied in school etc. His foster father is his greatest inspiration and is instrumental in molding him during his formative years. The father-son moments have preachy moments but it blends well with the story. The numerous instances where Clark does superhuman feats and the consequences that he and his parents face are portrayed well too.

  • What people wrongly think went wrong –

Ok, there is good justice being done to Kal-El and Superman. So why are most people disappointed with the movie? The answer is simple. Superman is not Batman. Most people expect a Dark Knight when they walk in to Man of Steel. I would be surprised if they are not disappointed. It is like walking into a ‘Fast and the Furious’ movie and expecting Bruce Lee to show you his cool Jeet-Kune-Do or Karate moves!

In all fairness, Batman and Superman cannot be compared; even with Nolan+Goyer+Snyder at the helm of things. All we need to ask ourselves is one question – Did they do justice to the story of Superman? Hell, yes!

Superman and Batman are two different characters. Frankly, Superman is less exciting because he is too perfect. He doesn’t have the dark past like Batman, or the quick wit of Iron Man, or the bad ass demeanor / adamantium fists of Wolverine. Superman is intended to be an ideal superhero and an ideal man which is why certain amount of suspension of disbelief is needed to appreciate him. Batman is supposed to be a believable character – he is a guy who has his limitations but still goes on to fight his demons and rise above them.

Anyway, all said and done; for the people who think that there wasn’t enough character development that went into Superman, maybe we need to look deeper. Take off your Dark Knight cape, and wear the Superman hat; you would definitely enjoy this effort.

Keep calm and trust in Nolan.

Nolan’s reckonings…

Christopher Nolan is a household name now, largely owing to his retrieval of the Batman franchise; breathing a new life into the characters than Frank Miller & Bob Kane created. There are many of us who have been fans of Christopher Nolan’s movies for a long time, and many more joining in post the success of the Batman trilogy. I first started off with The Dark Knight and then went back to watching all of his movies, right from Doodlebug, his first short. His movies are more than just a visual spectacle, having sharply etched characters that you take home with and ponder upon, way after the credits roll. There is much we can take out of Chris Nolan’s movies, the ones that he created and also those that he adapted to the big screen. These are some lessons that I realized, upon multiple viewings that his movies may not need, but truly deserve!

Note – There are no spoilers in this post.

1.    “Man’s reach exceeds his grasp? It’s a lie. Man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” – Nikola Tesla, The Prestige.

In tough times, when failure shows its ugly head, most of us believe that we are limited by our abilities in performing that particular task that we failed in. We tend to believe that knowing something superficially is good enough and do not find a need to get into the details, or rather barely reaching the subject instead of grasping it. Through this quote, we are introduced to the idea that we are limited by our inability to explore new possibilities, thinking out of the box or taking risks; and not by our inability to do something. This quote is of an important consequence in the movie, and if taken in the right spirit can lead us to expanding our possibilities! The only lasting limits that are imposed are those imposed by ourselves!

2.    “Now you are looking for the secret, but you won’t find It because of course, you are not really looking” – Cutter, The Prestige.

This is a simple line with a lot of depth in it. Often, we come across problems that seem impossible to crack, or tasks that remain pending for a long time. What could be the reasons for this – we choose to conveniently or situationally ignore them, or we simply aren’t trying enough to solve them. It’s not just about wanting to solve an issue, it is about trying all at hand and all that is possible to achieve the desired result. How many of us actually put in our 100% in everything that we do? Point to ponder upon.

3.       “What is the most resilient parasite? An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” – Dom Cobb, Inception

“True inspiration is hard to fake” – Arthur, Inception

We are what we see ourselves to be. Genuine inspiration that comes from within is what makes people succeed in what they do. No amount of coercing or cajoling would help in that regard.  What the mind can conceive and perceive, it can achieve!

4.    “Why do we fall Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up” – Thomas Wayne, Batman Begins

This is a simple line that goes a long way in shaping the character of a self-made individual. A friend once told me that situations and experiences are what make a person brave. To quote Nietzsche, “Something that doesn’t kill you simply makes you stronger”.  Failures are important in one’s life as it is in times of adversity that the true abilities of a person are tested.

5.    “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become legend Mr.Wayne” – Ducard, Batman Begins.

Ok, this is a dramatic dialogue at the first glance. However, it can be weaved into our life by visualizing ourselves as being symbolic to atleast one strong ideal or trait, and living by it completely. For example, Mother Teresa is a symbol of peace, Steve Jobs is a symbol of innovation, Bhagat Singh is one of the many symbols of the struggle for Indian independence. These are people whose names will live on for a long time after them, as they have been immortalized by their value systems, for living their lives by one ideal. If I devote myself to the pursuit of perfection, I can ensure that I perform all tasks to the best that can ever be. If I dedicate myself to the pursuit of happiness, I turn out to be an optimist in life.

6.    “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I am flesh and blood I can be ignored and destroyed; but as a symbol I can be incorruptible and everlasting” – Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins.

Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s understanding” – Ducard, Batman Begins.

I wish our politicians see this quote and live by it! The recent molestation incident at Guwahati is a clear indication of the apathy that exists within us. It is disgusting enough to realize that we live in a country where a girl is molested in public, what makes it worse is that it wasn’t one or two individuals, but close to 30 people violating all laws of humanity by indulging in this act. This incident is spoken about for a few days or maybe weeks in the media, and finally one fine day the accused will walk free, all ready to molest his next victim.

Would a public trial of the accused and meting out life terms for such people be dramatic enough? I cannot say! The judiciary needs to be the symbol of hope that the citizens perceive to be incorruptible. Happens only in Utopia, many might reckon, and I don’t disagree!

7.    “Men fear most what they cannot see. What you really fear is inside yourself” – Ducard, Batman Begins.

The whole of Batman Begins talks about fear and its ramifications on the lives of the characters. It is primary to identify the fear within oneself in order to overcome it. As shown in this movie, it is imperative to first embrace the fear and then confront it. I used to be acrophobic, having a fear of heights. It took me one jump off 2000m to get me out of it. That incident of paragliding reduced my fear to look down from a height by a great deal! Though this is a shallow example considering the intensity of this statement, I think it pretty much conveys the point.

8.    “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you” – Rachel, Batman Begins.

Many of us plan many things that we intend to do, but never end up finishing them. People are recognized by what they’ve done and not what they intended to do. MK Gandhi is remembered for using non-violent methods for leading a nation to freedom, in spite of all the stuff that is written about him in recent books. He defines nonviolence.  Adolf Hitler was a perfectionist who was obsessed about perfection in all that he did. But he is remembered for the Holocaust which led to the unfortunate deaths of millions. Actions definitely do speak louder than words!

9.    “People are only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.” – The Joker, The Dark Knight.

Most people might have missed the genius in this dialogue. It talks about how opportunistic people can get when it comes to survival. When pushed to their limits, or even otherwise, there are few of us who actually stick to our value systems all along, and take the tough path to success.

10.   There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us” – Selina Kyle, The Dark Knight Rises

Though this dialogue has an important consequence in the plot of TDKR, I couldn’t help but notice how it talks about the economic disparity in society today. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a comfortable life. How many of us are doing our bit to give back to the society, and bettering the lives of our lesser fortunate countrymen.

11.   “Victory has defeated you” – Bane, The Dark Knight Rises

Bane means this in a different light when he says this, but I am not getting into the plot of TDKR. The way I see it is this. We sometimes tend to get complacent with success and might reduce on the quality of work that we do, not intentionally, more involuntarily. And this, when done, leads to one’s downfall. Complacency brings in a false level of satisfaction that leads us to lower our standards.

12.   “You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak. How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death?” – Prisoner, The Dark Knight Rises.

The best part about the trilogy is that all along, fear is acknowledged, not run away from. I feel this is very relevant in life. The fear of failure brings in a drive that pushes us way beyond our established boundaries, enabling us to do things that we once thought were impossible.

13.   “A hero can be anyone” – Batman, The Dark Knight Rises

I liked the way this is put in the movie – casually quoting that anyone who wishes well and does their bit to help others can be a hero. A small deed can make a huge difference in the lives of many people. It’s all relative!

I acknowledge that this post has rushes from this blog on Forbes. I have added content that I observed from his movies and those I suppose Nolan intended the audience to know. There are many other movies that have things to learn from, but there has been a consistency in Nolan’s heartfelt storytelling that I find some details hard to miss! I am sure there are other details I might have left out. As with any viewer, perspectives and opinions differ.

This post is written out of reverence to the content that needs to be told, and not out of my misplaced sense of self righteousness 🙂

Enthiran – The Invincible!

“This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”

– The Joker in “The Dark Knight”

This best describes what happens when Rajni and Shankar come together. Rajni, the unstoppable force that he is, going strong at 60. Shankar, the immovable object, sticks to his style of filmmaking, and continuously reinvents himself at the same time. Endhiran brings them together after the blockbuster “Sivaji”.

What happens when combo of a ubiquitous media baron [Sun Pictures, Kalanidhi Maran], a Demi God Super Star, a maverick director [Shankar], the Mozart of Madras [AR Rahman], a global beauty [Aishwarya Rai] and a Legend in animatronics [Stan Winston Studios] come together? The result is bombastic.

Being in the making for about 2 years, Enthiran commanded the greatest of our expectations, and it doesn’t disappoint.

The plot is simple and straight. A genius scientist Vaseegaran creates a hyper-advanced robot, Chitti, for the Indian army. Enthiran is about the consequences that arise when the robot interacts with the society and the problems/solutions it introduces. OK, the plot is simple and age old, what’s all the noise about?

Firstly, with the screenplay, Shankar, the captain courageous, scores big. It’s no mean task to amalgamate the taste of the Indian audience and the technicality that goes into a project of this magnitude, both of which are relevant for this movie to be a success. Shankar comes up with an original product that has no similarities to other robot movies of Hollywood. Full marks to him for his detailing. Immense research has gone into the execution of Enthiran and it reflects on screen. Topics like coding of the neural schema [one of the key concepts in artificial intelligence], using the Zigbee protocol for data transfer to an examination hall for Sana [Aishwarya] to clear her medical exams, Obstetrics – to deliver a baby, the realization that dawns on Vaseegaran to give Chitti the power to feel things as a human; are small things that may not be noticed by us viewers, but show Shankar’s prowess in eye for detail.

Next comes Animatronics, a technique that is used extensively in Enthiran, executed to perfection by the guys at Stan Wiston Studios, USA. FYI : Stan Winston studios are the guys behind special effects for movies like Alien, Terminator, Predator, Jurassic Park, more recently, Iron man and Avatar. With such an impeccable track record, these guys yet again make us go gaga over the special effects in Enthiran. There are certain sequences that gave me goose bumps and definitely deserve a mention – the introductory scene of the robot where he showcases his talent in different martial arts and different types of dance, the firefighting scene, the train fight sequence, the scene where Chitti has to be approved by the All India Robotics Development centre, the emergence of the destructive robot; lastly, the final 30 minutes of Endhiran leaves you spellbound with the magic that is animatronics. I do not want to quote specifics of the climax lest it spoil your experience. Kudos to Stan Winston for giving Animatronics to the world!

AR Rahman is in fine form, as usual and as expected. Music is extravagant which reflects the mood of Endhiran. I am at awe with his ability to create two completely different versions of the same song. The album includes the fast version of “Irumbile oru Irudhayam”, but he weaves the slow version of this song in the BGM. Pure genius. Shankar’s exquisite picturisation, especially “Kadhal Anukkal” and “Kilimanjaro”, accentuates the songs and makes them a selling point. Aishwarya puts in a fine performance as the scientist’s lover-girl. Special mention to her dancing skills – she steals the show in “Irumbile oru Irudhayam” and “Kilimanjaro”. Danny Denzongpa does justice to his miniscule role. Santhanam and Karunas can pride themselves for having bagged a role as Rajni’s sidekick!

Coming to the Boss! Enthiran is Rajni mania unleashed!

Enthiran is primarily dominated by the robot Rajni [Chitti] who does things you have always wanted Rajni to do – chase trains to save a girl, save people from an apocalyptic fire, run horizontal, talk to animals [or more specifically, to insects], replicate himself to multiple robots, wield 100 guns, smash vehicles and the likes! Rarely does Rajni get to showcase on screen his villainous skills of yore. The transformation he brings into the sinister robot is to be seen to be believed. The maniacal laughter, the aggressive body language and the agility he infuses into the rogue Chitti in the second half satisfies every bit of the Rajni fan in you. He adds his signature style to every frame of the film. The climactic sequence puts Rajni against Rajni which more than satisfies the fan in you.

Negatives, if any, would be the lack of a dedicated comedy track, and excess stunt sequences. But I am not complaining since they are executed to perfection!

Enthiran is Rajni at one of his many bests. With this, Shankar defines a new standard of filmmaking. Indian cinema has found its place on the global map. Watch it to savour the experience that Enthiran is.

Inception-Nolan’s best conception yet!

As the regular readers of my blog must have noticed, I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan. My previous posts reflect how much I adore this guy and his movies. Post Dark Knight, I knew Inception was under way. But Phew, never thought he would better himself this well! Firstly, the bare basics for the unlearned reader. Inception stars Leonardo Dicaprio [Dom Cobb], Ellen Page [Ariadne] , Joseph-Gordon [Arthur] and Marion Cotillard [Mal] in prime roles. Simply put Inception is a roller-coaster ride, an intelligent thriller which sets you thinking. But, the simplicity ends there. With Inception, Nolan has created something with his unbelievably incredible and god- gifted mind which is sure to blow the minds of the audience away!

Chris Nolan is known to etch his characters perfectly and at the same time interleave complexity in them. Be it the aimless guy in “Following”, the protagonist who suffers from anterograde amnesia in “Memento”, the psychopathic killer in “Insomnia”, the ambitious and competing magicians in “The Prestige”, the vulnerable Batman who overcomes his fears in “Batman begins” or the maniacal joker who literally made “The Dark Knight” the classic it is today – Nolan always crafts characters that wow you with their inherent uniqueness and subtle intricacies. In my opinion, Nolan has the talent and capacity, and is set to scale the heights of stalwarts like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. With Inception, Nolan pulls off a perfect blend of a crowd-winning blockbuster and a artistic, theme based film.

Leonardo Di Caprio is one of my favourite actors of this generation, together with Jonny Depp and Christian Bale. It is pretty obvious that he has come a long way from the boy-next-door Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic to the repenting, redemption seeking Dom Cobb in Inception with an amazing track record of roles in classics – The skillful forger in Speilberg’s “Catch-me-if-you-can”, the Airplane Baron Howard Hughes suffering from Obsessive compulsive disorder in “Aviator”, the good-hearted opportunistic smuggler in “Blood diamond”, the US Marshal who is prone to Migraine in “Shutter Island”. With him having carried off all these roles with elan, Nolan takes DiCaprio to another level with Inception [or vice versa!]

Inception has a multi-layered plot; quite literally!

It is the story of Dom Cobb, the best extractor in business, who finds his way into people’s minds to steal deeply ideas rooted in their subconscious, without them knowing it. With assistance from an expert team consisting of a Researcher [the one who gathers details about the victim], a forger [the one who impersonates others in dreams], an architect [the one responsible for creating the locations in a dream] and a chemist [the person who sedates all the dreamers]l Cobb sets out on a mission, his last one, to clear his name and lead a normal life with his kids. The mission is one of a corporate espionage proposed by Saito [Ken Watanabe] wherein Cobb is not required to steal an idea from a mind, but plant it instead! What follows is 150 minutes of sheer brilliance in all aspects of filmmaking.

As always, Nolan scores full marks on detailing. Some scenes in the movie are sure to stay with me for years to come: the concept of a rotating totem, the inverting of a complete half of the city of Paris, the scene where a café is blown up while Cobb explains shared dreaming to Ariadne, Ariadne’s perception and construction of a city to house a dream; the chase scene in Mombasa; the scene in which the Merc SUV falls off a bridge in slow motion; the zero gravity fight sequence; the fight sequence of Arthur with gravity shifting by 90 degrees every few seconds are all rushes of Nolan’s genius! Never had I thought that a simple spinning top would arrest my attention! I don’t want to quote more specifics as it would spoil your movie watching experience. The last one hour of the movie is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat with so many unforeseen events happening in his venture. Inception culminates in a powerful climax, which leaves some questioning the ending, and the rest extremely satisfied.

Di Caprio is top notch as the glum, fragile Cobb who seems to be in control but Is unable to get a hold on himself and manage his demons of the past. Hans Zimmer is in top form, as usual, having given very good soundtracks like Dark Knight and Batman Begins with Nolan. The cinematography is one of the major strengths and captures every frame immaculately. Ellen Page throws in a good performance. A special mention to the English accent sporting “Forger” Eames [Tom Hardy], who brings in many laughs with his witty dialogue exchanges and rivalry with Arthur. Joseph Gordon of “500 days of Summer” fame puts up a good show as Arthur. Nolan’s favourite yesteryear Michael Caine is apt in his miniscule role. The chemist Yusuf, Ken Watanabe, Cobb’s projection of his wife Mal [Marion Cotillard] all fit in precisely.

There are hardly any errors. Even if considered errors, they are almost invisible. The concept about the how the dreams are shared isn’t explained explicitly. But this is overshadowed by the swift screenplay and the ingenious concept which makes inception what it is.

Inception needs multiple viewings to comprehend its intricacies, mostly due to the fact that you tend to discover something new every time you watch it. To conclude, Inception is not just a movie. It is an experience that Nolan takes you through. It is a puzzle which he guides you through to solve. It is a maze which he unravels before your eyes. It is a dream which he wants you to live! Go to sleep to live your dream!

PS : IMAX viewing is strongly recommended. The huge screen, digital transmission and 12000W sound make a world of difference.

Raavanan – ?/10

Raavanan – 10 heads, 10 minds, 100 voices, 1000 bullets!

“Raavanan” boasts of a fantastic, awe-inspiring team which includes Mani Ratnam, Santosh Sivan, Chiyaan Vikram, Manikandan, AR Rahman, Aishwarya RB; which sets the expectations soaring. But does it deliver?

Firstly, about Mani Ratnam. Mani Ratnam is one of the respected filmmakers of India and his films are known to be thought provoking. A Mani Ratnam film usually exudes class, magnificence & realism; coming from the stables of Madras Talkies, Raavanan is no different. We have seen him roll out classics like Dalapathi, Nayagan, Roja, Bombay, Alaipayuthey, Kannathil Muthamittal etc. He usually derives inspiration from epics or real events. Dalapathi was based on Karna’s story from the Mahabharatha; Nayagan was based on the life and times of Varadarajan Mudaliar [features on the “Time 100 best movies of all time” list], the Mumbai underworld don; Roja was on Kashmir terrorism; Bombay was on the Hindu-Muslim conflict in Mumbai; Guru was inspired by Dhirubhai Ambani’s life; and now Raavan is based on the Ramayana. Known to have a penchant for discovering talent and bringing the best out of any artiste, Mani Ratnam is credited with finding the likes of AR Rahman, Madhavan, Arvind Swamy, Aishwarya Rai and reinventing Abhishek Bachchan.

Vikram, an actor par excellence, took a long time to gather a foothold in the industry. “Sethu” took him to greater heights and there was no stopping him with hit after hit. What followed was “Dhil”, “Dhool”, “Saamy”, “Pithamagan” and “Anniyan”. Post Anniyan, his juggernaut slowed down due to poor choice of films. “Bheema” and “Kandasamy” were duds in spite of his hallmark performances; these costed him a precious 4 years. Directors seldom tap Vikram’s complete potential as an actor, and as a die-hard Vikram fan; I was grossly disappointed. Then comes Mani Ratnam, as always, with not one, but two roles that has immense scope for performance. An opportunity that was missed when Ratnam did “Bombay” beckons him again. VIkram grabs it with both hands.

Coming to Raavanan, it is quite obvious that it is inspired from the epic Ramayana, made in a contemporary style. Veera [Vikram] is a rustic villager who commands the respect of his people. The movie opens with his many atrocities and his much spoken about jump from a cliff into the gushing water below. He kidnaps Aishwarya [Raagini], a dancer; who is Prithviraj’s [Dev-A police superintendent] wife. What follows is a tale of vengeance, flashback and man-hunts. The whole movie is soaked in rain and yet again showcases Mani’s eternal love affair with rain. It rains during the chases, in the songs and even in the emotional scenes. The cinematography is brilliant; making sure every fine nuance is captured on camera. Never have we seen the jungles of South and central India shown so beautifully on screen.

Vikram effortlessly carries the film on his broad shoulders. His powerhouse performance with his “Dhad Dhad Dhad Dhad” Tirunelveli slang strikes a chord with the mood of the film and is a treat for his fans. He does justice to his role, but a lot more screen presence would have fastened the pace of this otherwise slow moving movie. Even at a run time of about 120 minutes, Raavanan seems to be longer than what it actually is. Aishwarya throws in a good performance in spite of the physical challenges that her character is put through – read rappelling, swimming, jumping off a cliff! Prithviraj does justice to his role and comes across as a committed police officer. Karthik, who does a Hanuman, has chosen a decent comeback vehicle. Prabhu establishes himself as the “big brother” in Tamil cinema. Priyamani makes a mark even though her role is miniscule. AR Rahman’s tunes aren’t that impressive; barring “Veera” and maybe “Usure poguthey”; or maybe they are yet to grow on me. He excels in the background score, as always. It complements the immaculate picturisation and provides a rustic feel to the frame; as intended. The bridge fight scene at the climax is one of the best scenes in Tamil cinema. Watch it to believe it.

All that said, “Raavanan” comes across as a film with no specifics. Ratnam is known for creating solid characters. In Raavanan, each of the three protagonists are shown to have negative shades. Veera kidnaps a police officer’s wife. Dev suspects his wife after she is back from Veera’s village. Raagini’s love wavers between that for Dev and for Veera. Maybe that’s how Mani wanted it to be. But to the viewer, it comes across as a confused plot. Raavanan is a musical and visual treat; but fails to match up to my expectations; especially with stalwarts like Mani Ratnam; we tend to expect something out of the world which Raavanan is not. For sure, it is a movie which is not to be missed. But it lacks that special something which leaves you satisfied in the end. Raavanan is one of those movies which grow on you. . . Just give it some time . . Hoping to see many more and better movies from this combination.

Singam – The Lion King!

Continuing with my fetish to watch Surya’s movies in the first day/week of release, I got to watch “Singam” on the first day of release, but in quite unexpected circumstances!

Another ordinary ‘Thank God it’s Friday’; just another day at work; me going about ‘mundane’ activities at work, if you understand what I mean [God Bless the policy makers of IT companies that allow women to wear casuals on Fridays :D], along comes an inadvertent mention of the fact that the much awaited Surya starrer is to release today. My pulse goes racing, as I have more reasons than the Surya factor to watch this movie: one being my senseless desire to watch his movies ASAP, another was Anushka! My subconscious starts making plans for the night show and thanks to the sincere cousin of mine, who accompanies me on most of my ambitious movie quests, it happened.

The Movie –

Surya is a powerhouse of talent as most of us have seen and known. He teams up with Hari [of “Saamy” fame] for the third time, after “Aaru” and “Vel”. Hari is known for his commercial movies with the right mix of action, comedy, romance, songs; and with “Singam” he does what he does best-make commercial cinema. “Singam” is the story of a straightforward, “don’t mess with me” cop Duraisingam [Surya], an inspector in Nellore, who takes on the most vicious baddie in Tamil Nadu Mayilvahanam [Prakash Raj], and runs into trouble as and when deemed possible. What follows is a cops and robbers chase which is executed fairly well.

Coming to the specifics, Surya strengthens his stronghold in Tamil cinema as a mass hero. Right from his unbelievably heroic introduction scene to the superhuman bashing of poor rowdies, Surya gets to do them all! As always, he throws in a power-packed performance, as the handlebar-mush-sporting, Enfield-riding, law-upholding, baddie-bashing ideal cop. Anushka’s presence ensures that even the dullest of screens are brightly lit! Vivek’s act as Surya’s sidekick provides some laughs. Prakash Raj proves yet again that he can excel in any role that is thrown at him. This is one of his best acts as a villain, after “Ghilli”. Senior actors like Nasser, Radharavi, Manorama, Vijaykumar all do justice to their roles. Hari’s fast, racy screenplay ensures that there is never a dull moment. However, “Singam” has shades of his first venture, the brilliant “Saamy” and comparisons are inevitable.Cinematography is apt; editing is racy, with many cuts and glories that are inherent to a commercial movie.

Music is one of the major aspects that makes / breaks a movie. We have seen both end results with “Asal” at one end and “Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya” at the other. Devi Sri Prasad[DSP] falters again after his grossly disappointing score of “Kandasamy”. Where is the DSP that composed tunes for Arya, Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, Bommarillu etc? DSP, please take some time off and re-invent yourself. As I feared, none of the tracks make a great impact: “You stole my heart” can be counted as an exception though. [PS: DSP, Please don’t screw up Vikram’s next –“Vedi”; I beg of you]

All that said, “Singam” is worth a watch for Anushka’s presence, Vivek’s gags and quite simply the “Surya” factor!

PS: This is the first movie that I have seen in the theatre without even knowing the release date or watching the trailer!

Vinnai Thandi Varuvaaya… sincerely!

Vinnai Thandi Varuvaaya, will you cross the skies and come (to me); is Gautam Menon’s latest offing with Simbu and Trisha in the lead, as all of us know. It also is the coalescence of Gautam with AR Rahman for the first time; ARR’s first Tamil project post his Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes. Need there be any more reasons to set our expectations soaring sky high!

Needless to say, ARR doesn’t disappoint. Hosanna is a gift to all music lovers across generations. The intricate orchestration, the seamless transition from melody to rap and back to melody, the flawless rendition by Vijay Prakash, the haunting chorus by Suzanne de Mello [of Slumdog fame], the immaculate cinematography, the captivating beauty of Malta, the expressive emoting by the lead pair, and lastly the towering crescendo, all add up to make this a masterpiece.

Omana Penne is the next track that captures your attention, once you break the spell cast by Hosanna. The techno-mixed voice of Benny Dayal adds subtleties to the perfect orchestration. The Malayalam lyric by Kalyani Menon, and the Nadaswaram bit take the track lilting to perfection.

ARR amazes with the variety in the album, in spite of most tracks being melodious.

Mannipaaya, the title track and Anbil Avan convey the mood of the protagonists effectively. Aaromale is hailed as a masterpiece; owing to the haunting guitar, Alphons’s rendition, and the chorus; but it hasn’t struck a chord with me.

The background score is spot on, with it being dead silent at times, adding immense intensity to the scene. Gautam has exploited Rahman’s genius to the best possible extent. Its almost like I don’t miss the Gautam-Harris combo anymore!

Coming to the story [or the lack of it], it’s simple, straight and practical. Cinematography by Manoj Paramahamsa [of Eeram fame] is truly enchanting and is complemented effectively by the background score. Be it the simple shots of Trisha’s home or the picturesque Alappuzha, Manoj excels in every frame. Dialogues are minimal and precise, but repetitive at times, as with the scenes. Trisha sets your pulse racing with her drop dead gorgeous looks throughout; and her portrayal of the indecisive woman [as mostly the case!] caught between her love for Simbu and her father’s dictum is worth applauding. Its unfortunate that Trisha isn’t able to dub in her own voice, even with Tamil being her mother tongue; and Chinmayee does well to compensate.  Simbu’s underplayed performance is a welcome change from his previous finger-waggling, nonsensical-dialogue-mouthing roles. Ganesh, who comes as a cameraman, Simbu’s mentor and friend, is a breath of fresh air, and provides well-needed comic relief when the pace gets slow.

On the slop side, the scenes are repetitive and get boring at times. As a result, the runtime is high, about 160 minutes. Too few characters make this a monologue of sorts. Maybe it was meant to be so, as this is a narration of the lead character’s first love.

Overall, VTV is worth a watch, for the lead pair’s chemistry, ARR’s music and Gautam’s style. Strictly for the below 30 audience!