Two Crafty “Suhaag Raat” Scenes

Iruvar (Parakash Raj-Revathi)The wedding night or the suhaag raat still has a lot of significance in Indian culture. The conservative Indian society still banishes pre-marital sex and thus the wedding night is supposed to be the first time the bride and the groom make their relationship sexual, with the acceptance of the society. Indian cinema has used and abused the ‘suhaag raat’ scene over the decades of its existence. Often, such scenes make for unintentional hilarity. Only occasionally the wedding night scenes have managed to break through the stereotype. Further in this blogpost, I would like to dwell on two such instances wherein I feel the ‘suhaag raat’ scene was thoughtfully done with craft.

 

Titash Nadir Ek naam ( A River Named Titash)

Ritwik Ghatak’s cinema doesn’t appeal to all. The idiosyncrasies of his films alienates quite a few people. But there are his staunch admirers as well who consider his cinema to be superior to his Bengali contemporary Satyajit Ray. The two Bengali stalwarts, however, were mutual admirers of each other. The use of sound in Ghatak’s films was indeed peculiar. In the below scene from his 1973 film Titash… , Rajar Jhi, a young girl from the village, marries Kishore, a fisherman from the neighbouring village. As the two are left alone to consummate their marriage, the score is dominated by the exaggerated heavy breathing of the newly wed bride. The use of the heavy breathing in the scene depicts the anxiety of the first sexual encounter of Rajar Jhi. It also depicts the concern of living far away from her home and family, with another person who is nothing but a stranger. The score has to be one of the most experimental use of sound for a wedding night scene in the history of Indian cinema. The scene can also be considered to be a fine example of the peculiar use of diegetic sound in Ghatak’s oeuvre as a filmmaker.

 

Iruvar

In this scene from the Mani Ratnam classic from the late 1990s, loosely based on the MGR-Karunanidhi friendship-cum-rivalry, the firebrand poet Tamilzhselvam (Prakash Raj) marries a simpleton Maragatham (Revathi). The beauty of the wedding night scene is that we get to know so much about the characters. Tamizhselvam, a socialist who doesn’t have faith in the idea of god. A liberal man who treats men and women as equal. And Maragatham, a naïve young lady brought up by her parents as a devout Hindu. The kind of woman who will never question her husband and will always follow his lead. The trope of saree catching fire would have looked cheesy under the hands of an inferior director but not here. Ratnam masterfully uses the trope to further tell us about the characters and also add the much needed sensuality to the scene (it is a wedding night after all). Santosh Shivan’s use of saturated green of the saree, walls and window and contrasting it with Prakash Raj’s bright white clothes and the superb lighting; Rahman’s tender background score; the intensity of Prakash Raj’s dialogue delivery, all do make the screen burn with the raging fire of desire. The scene packs a bigger impact than that of Anadan and his wife between which it has been sandwiched by the editor. This wedding night sequence, much like all of Iruvar, is a masterclass in filmmaking.

Thoughts on Mani Ratnam and his films

Mani Ratnam

 

Khalid Mohamed

 

Once upon a time in Mumbai, you’d have to drag me away from the Santa Cruz aiport, literally prevent me from catching another flight to Chennai. The cities were still called Bombay and Madras then. Life was cool, cinema was cooler and conversations with this brand-new boss of mainstream Indian cinema were the coolest. Dhan ta na, that was Mani Ratnam.Continue reading “Thoughts on Mani Ratnam and his films”

Iruvar: A Tale Of Two Men

Iruvar!
Friendship! It makes the world go round. It can move mountains. When you are surrounded by your friends, you feel like you can do anything. This masterpiece by Mani Sir is an ode to Friendship. It is a brilliant tale of how 2 men, as different as chalk and cheese sadly let their ambition come in the way of their love for each other leading to a gargantuan political conflict that ends up influencing the political topography of a state. It is a tale of their lives with and without each other and what paths they end up taking and how it all ends for them.

Iruvar is the tale of Anandan (Mohanlal), a man who has come up the hard way in life. He is a very talented actor and is eagerly waiting for his chance under the arc-lights. He is a sensitive man, proud, and patient, but slowly beginning to give in to despair.
It is the tale of Thamizhchezhvan( Prakash Raj), A man who knows the difference between right and wrong. A man who wants to make a difference and change all that is bad about society. He is confident bordering on arrogant, but he is sincere and is ready to commit sacrilege when it comes to old outdated customs and traditions.

From their 1st meeting, it’s quite clear that Thamizh is the leader of the pack and Anandan is more than willing to follow. Thamizh mentors Anandan and they end up making a great cinematic team of writer and actor. While Anandan is content with becoming the hero of a few movies, Thamizh has larger ambitions for himself. He is a prominent lieutenant of the firebrand leader Velu Annachi (Nasser) who is unhappy with the way Tamilians have been sidelined in national politics and wishes to carve out a separate identity for them and Thamizh is more than willing to fight by his side for this.

The story then focuses on their gradual rise to fame as Anandan slowly becomes one of the Superstars of Tamil Cinema and Thamizh begins to gain fame as a politician. Things come to a head when Annachi wishes to give Anandan a bigger role in the party and Thamizh begins to feel sidelined. That is when jealousy rears its ugly head and slowly a rift is created between the 2 friends. One thing leads to another and Anandan forms his own party. Then on begins a game of one upmanship between them before age catches up with the duo.

I’ll be frank. I am not at all familiar with the relationship between MGR and Karunanidhi on whom the above characters are based. I am also not familiar with the movies MGR has done and have maybe watched one or two on TV. So, I may have missed out on a lot of significant details in the movie which many others who are more well versed with the situation may have noticed.

Mohanlal is a gifted actor. I say it now and I will always say it in spite of all the absolute crap that he has been acting in lately. What I’ve loved about Lalettan is that acting comes so naturally to him. It is always a pleasure to see him on screen and this movie is no exception. I never saw Anandan as MGR. I saw Anandan as this innocent young man who slowly evolves into somebody who understands the world around him and does not take any rubbish from it. The evolution of Anandan has been done brilliantly and equal credit goes to both Mani sir and Lalettan for having worked really hard on the character. His best sequences include the one where he is demoted to play the role of an extra. The expressions that he shows tell us why he is one of the best actors in India. Also, the scene where he climbs to the terrace of Thamizh’s house and is surprised at the crowd waiting downstairs for him.

And what can one say about Prakash Raj. I was just left stunned with the intensity with which he has done this role. He did not just act as Thamizhchezhuvan, He BECAME Thamizhchezhuvan. The confidence with the slight hint of arrogance in his eyes, the force with which he delivers his speeches, those moments of silence where he ponders over what may have been, the tenderness with which he interacts with his wives, the fondness with which he looks at the CM’s chair when he is first elected into office, his grief at Anandan’s death and the way he pours it all out in one of the best monologues I’ve ever heard. He truly deserved the National Award that year and it’s a shame that directors would rather have him act in those terrible roles as a hamming villain.

Aishwarya Rai. I see her in this movie and I wonder to myself, What the fuck happened? Be it the innocent but sensible Pushpa or the ambitious and scheming Kalpana, She handles both roles with such finesse it’s hard to believe that it was only her first movie. Of course, equal credit must go to Rohini for having done a wonderful job dubbing for her. Pity that she never delivered any other performance as good as this in the rest of her career (Ok, Maybe Guru, But nothing else).

The rest of the ladies however, Tabu, Revathy and Gautami were kind of under-utilized I felt, but then again, to be fair, It was not their story. The rest of the supporting cast too did brilliantly, but special mention must go to Nasser who is crackling as the fiery Ayya!
This movie was shot by Santosh Sivan and I must say he does a brilliant job of it. Every frame, is captured so beautifully that you wish that the movie goes on and on and on and you could just keep watching. The songs are shot so beautifully that you don’t feel that they act as speedbreakers in the narrative. The music and background score by Rahman are absolutely brilliant. My pick of the lot would be Aayirathil Naan Oruvan sung with aplomb by Mano and shot beautifully.

This movie is truly one of Mani Sir’s finest works. A tale of friendship with a backdrop of the evolution of a state. Just brilliant!

Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:

1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)

Iruvar – The Doomed Masterpiece


Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam Iyer perhaps knew somewhere at the back of his mind that the political saga he was about to embark on after the hugely successful BOMBAY, could be doomed for failure. What he perhaps never imagined was that he was about to create a cinematic masterpiece so brilliant and haunting, neither government, nor box-office could prevent it from engraving itself in the hearts and minds of Indian cinephiles. IRUVAR was bold, not just for it’s fictionalized exploration of the epic M.G. RamachandranM. Karunanidhi relationship, but for the cinematic trends Mani Ratnam chose to break, or as some may argue, return to.

The 90s were the age of A.R. Rahman’s Muqabla and Humma Humma. Shankar had stormed into the scene with a string of commercial spectacles. Audiences preferred action and gimmickry to the more simplistic, script and character-oriented family dramas that dominated the earlier years. Technology had taken over the Kodambakkam film industry and filmmaking became an excuse to play with these new toys. Audiences didn’t seem to mind either, for to be awed and nothing less, they went to the movies. Star or not, every producer was making money.

And then there was Mani sir. Neither Kollywood’s newly acquired toys, nor Rahman’s rhythms fascinated him anymore. At a time when theatres boasted of their gargantuan cinemascope screens, Ratnam stuck his middle finger up and shot his film in a classical 4:3 aspect ratio, unthinkable in an industry that has refused to even consider anything lesser than scope for decades. While other filmmakers flew to exotic, colourful, foreign locations to shoot their songs, Mani sir chose to stay home and shoot them in Black & White. Rahman’s synthesized sounds and loops were replaced with veenas and violins, thavils and timpanis, brasses and bass.

In what was perhaps the riskiest of casting decisions, Ratnam cast a living legend to play a past one. Such is the brilliance of Mohanlal’s layered performance that minutes into the film, you forget the thespian’s persona and are sold on Anandan being MGR. Equal to the task was the relative rookie Prakash Raj as Tamizhchelvan (M. Karunanidhi) who would go on to win the National Award for Best Supporting Actor for his career-defining performance. Prakash Raj was selected after talks with the initial choice, Nana Patekar failed, following rejection of the role by several thespians such as Mammootty, Kamal Haasan and Mithun Chakraborty. A magical ensemble surrounded this duo, each leaving behind a memorable presence regardless of screen time. Be it Revathy as Tamizhchelvan’s demure wife or Gauthami as the abused heroine seeking refuge at Anandan’s home, the detailing in their acts is impeccable. Lest we forget the mesmerising Tabu in her cameo as Tamizhchelvan’s lover, or Nasser commanding his scenes as Aiyya, the Anna Durai character. And yes, there was Aishwarya Rai too, making her feature film debut, impressive, yes, impressive, in a spunky double role.

Ratnam plays out the political saga linearly, starting from Anandan’s days as a struggling actor to his chance meeting with Tamizhchelvan in a studio set that sets the foundation for a friendship that would change the very nature of politics in Tamil Nadu. Prakash Raj’s role may have been slotted in a Supporting Actor category, but let it not disguise the fact that IRUVAR narrates a parallel story of two men, not just a sole protagonist. Ratnam chronicles Anandan and Tamizhchelvan’s rise in cinema and politics respectively through the first act, laying the seeds for a meeting of political ideology and influence. Tamizhchelvan writes politically and nationalistically charged lines which Anandan heroically performs on screen, sending Tamil Nadu’s cinema-mad public into frenzy. Anandan is the face of the fervor, his fans willing to dance to his every tune, yet he doesn’t know it. Tamizhchelvan spots a man capable of defining history and in what is perhaps one of the film’s most exhilarating scenes, strips Anandan off all his innocence, giving him his first raw taste of power.

Anandan tastes power for the first time.

Yet, Tamizhchelvan fears for the corruption of politics by cinema, opposing the party’s decision to recruit Anandan as a member. The stage is set for a brewing ideological clash between two best friends, held together by one man, Aiyya (Anna Durai). In one of the most telling scenes of the film, Ramani reminds Anandan that he is late for a political rally, only to realize he already knows it. Anandan takes Kalpana (based on Jayalalithaa) along for the ride, strategically making his entrance at the rally in the middle of Tamizhchelvan’s speech, just to test his power. When Tamizhchelvan denies him a ministry position, Anandan knows he has what he needs to fly solo.

Testing his power.

The epic battle scales heights Anandan and Tamizhchelvan perhaps never imagined it would. In the midst of it all, Ratnam fashions a scene of stupendous poignancy where the friends who have turned foes come face to face. The mastery of Mohanlal’s and Prakash Raj’s performance speaks volumes without any words about the war which has become bigger than them, escalated to a point of no return.

While IRUVAR is a fictionalized account of the MGR-Karunanidhi tale, Ratnam doesn’t shy away from anecdotal references. Like MGR, Anandan is shown to have Keralite roots, he is accidentally shot by a reigning villain during a movie shoot, MGR’s move to provide every unemployed man with a cycle-rickshaw to earn a living is referenced in a song, even the oft-heard rumour of Jayalalithaa bearing an uncanny resemblance to MGR’s first wife is blatantly played out with the casting of Aishwarya Rai in a double role. And this very quality of the film was perhaps its undoing, for Ratnam failed to fictionalize his script enough to escape the wrath of political parties. The film was initially denied a censor certificate by a cowardly board that seemed more vested in the interests of references to politicians still in the game. IRUVAR was eventually cleared by a special revision committee, with severe dialogue cuts, which Ratnam would mask with Rahman’s scintillating score, edited for dramatic impact. Despite the clearance, politicians threatened legal and physical action if “objectionable” portions on the Dravidian movement weren’t removed. Mani Ratnam did not relent, but eventually, exhibitors did. Was it political vendetta that forced them to do so, or a dumbed down audience more interested in the kind of political film where a man becomes Chief Minister for a day, jumps on buses and beats the living daylights out of goons, we may never know.

What we do know is that IRUVAR, for its craft and Mani Ratnam’s fearlessness, is a landmark in Tamil cinema. Santosh Sivan’s majestic frames are studied by cinephiles all over India even today. Who needs cinemascope for a film to look epic? Ratnam and Sivan reinforced that the classical ratio still stood firm as the frame to capture the most expressive compositions. Sivan deservedly won the National Award for Best Cinematography for his work. Be it the previously cited scene of Anandan realizing his power or the one where he speaks on stage with the camera circling around during the speech, Sivan’s work blended the classical style of the early days with movements better known to the post-modern era. Yet, it is his use of natural light in static interior compositions and spectacular deep-focus photography, rarely ever seen in Indian films such as in the scenes below that exemplify his mastery.

Composition and Use of Natural Light in Interiors

Spectacular Deep-Focus Cinematography

The scene Santosh Sivan fanboys swear by. Score takes over dialogues that censors killed.

Equally significant is Suresh Urs’ editing which never allows a dull moment in a film clocking in at 2 hours and 38 minutes. The juxtaposition of shots is as meticulous as the shots themselves, allowing performances to play out, milking each for emotion to the maximum. The concept of “less is more” has never been exemplified better in Indian cinema editing, as Urs is never insecure about staying on shots without cutting away, as long as the shot itself is enhancing and diversifying the value of the scene. It remains a pity Urs’ edit was marred by censor cuts. The recently deceased Art Director Samir Chanda often goes unmentioned in discussions on IRUVAR and inexplicably so. The detailing of the time period is dexterous and impeccable. From the movie sets that Anandan shoots in to the detailing of the exteriors, Chanda’s work is exemplary.

IRUVAR sees Mani Ratnam speak a cinematic language that is perhaps still alien to a majority of the Tamil mainstream audience. Yet, he maintains a mainstream format of filmmaking, replete with lip-sync song interludes, which he uses craftily as part of his narrative. One of the most eye-popping of them is the politically charged “Udal mannukku, uyir thamizhukku” interlude, voiced by actor Arvind Swamy, shot in stunning Black & White, in angles and compositions reminiscent of a Kurosawa battle scene, which finishes with a rousing ovation at a local movie theatre.

A.R. Rahman brings back the style of the 50’s and 60’s in much of the songs with nasally sung melodies, heavy use of the accordion and harmonica, and even a superlative exploration of jazz and the blues in Hello Mr. Ethirkatchi and Vennila Vennila respectively, the latter sung to utmost perfection by the amazing Asha Bhosle. It is often argued that at times the songs hamper IRUVAR’s flow, at one point, two of them literally popping up back to back. But the music and picturization are so wonderful, Ratnam makes it difficult for viewers to keep up their complaints.

Fifteen years after IRUVAR’s release, or close to forty years since its setting, the film remains topical even today. The DMK-AIADMK rivalry in Tamil Nadu still prevails, the inseparable relationship between politics and cinema still plagues creativity, Tamil filmmakers still fear to tackle mature, political subjects, while the audience has moved towards patronizing a brand of cinema that couldn’t be farther away from what Ratnam attempted with this film. Yet, IRUVAR will live on, not just as Mani Ratnam’s greatest and boldest film till date, but also the only, albeit unofficial cinematic account of Tamil Nadu’s political history.

As I conclude this recollection of my favourite Tamil film of all time, I’d like to showcase the excerpt below that exemplifies every aspect of IRUVAR’s craft, and ends with the film’s single-most memorable line.

Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:

1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)