Vishwaroopam II Review: Sleeper cells activated!

Cast:  Kamal Hassan, Pooja Kumar, Andreah Jeremiah, Shekhar Kapur, Anant Mahadevan, Nasser, Jaideep, Rahul Bose and Waheeda Rehman

Written, Directed and Produced by Kamal Hassan

Music by Ghibran

vishwa2b

Vishwaroopam 2 , the sequel to the 2013 spy thriller Vishwaroopam, put in simple words is nothing but a pointless exercise from film maker , Kamal Hassan.

Back in 2013, during the making of the original, Kamal struck upon the idea of delivering the Vishwaroopam story as a 2-part film. But the film has since struggled to see the light of the day due to the financial issues involving the then producer Aascar Ravichandran who went bust immediately  after the release of the Shankar opus ‘I’. And now half a decade later, Kamal has taken over the project and pumped his own money to get the movie released.

And therefore, one can understand the tacky VFX in some of the portions, though still not much of a dampener. The issue however is that the final product has nothing original to add to the events of the first movie to really warrant a sequel. What the film really does is throw in some leftover footage from the original and fills in the missing portions – like how Wisam gets recruited to RAW and ends up at Afghanistan, or how Omar confronting Wisam on discovering that he is the mole in his team etc.

This may not have been the movie that Kamal originally intended. But it seems with all the delays and budget constraints, he just rewrote several of the portions to just stitch up something cohesive and deliver it to the public as a sequel and be done with it. But we can only go by the final product that we have. And going by this, this is one that fails to inject anything fresh to the audience from the prequel. With some nods to the original movie, and a handful of new uninteresting plot points the movie flaggingly plods its way towards the end with no thrills and frills.

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It is definitely a good idea to catch up on the original if you are going into this one. Because otherwise nothing on screen would make sense. The screenplay continues the same confusing pattern of the original, and thereby viewers have to make peace with jumping from one timeline to another. And from one timezone to another.

The movie starts off right where we left off in Vishwaroopam, with our team of spies Major Wisam (Kamal), colleague Ashmita (Andreah), Colonel Jaganath (Shekhar Kapur) and wife Nirupama (Pooja Kumar) leaving New York and heading to UK to drop off the body of deceased ‘friend’ Dr Dawkins.

However, the script from here on forgets completely about the antagonists, Omar (Rahul Bose) and his aide Salim (Jaideep), and our heroes are instead content sorting out issues with a rather suspicious senior government agent (Anant Mahadevan) in UK. This further takes them to another episode of bomb diffusing, this time under the seas of Sheerness town in UK, where we get a history lesson courtesy Kamal about SS Richard Montgomery, the sunken ship that is said to claim 1,400 tonnes of explosives.

All of this takes up the first half of our spy thriller sequel, leaving the second half for Kamal to finally get back to India where he resorts to some usual predictable desi style story telling. Firstly, he introduces the ‘maa-beta’ angle by bringing in his mother (Waheeda Rehman) who suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease is unable to recognize her son. Then we have wife Nirupama trying to seduce hubby Wasim amidst all these bombs and threats. And finally, we have the baddies Omar and Salim finally surfacing for a rather tame climax which involves further bombs and kidnapped family members.

Kamal the writer needs to take the blame because the script once again functions an attempt to showcase the multiple talents of Kamal in a single movie, irrespective of whether the movie demands it or not. One is not doubting Kamal the actor, but it would have worked better if Kamal the writer kept the focus on the story and not just on the character of Wisam.  Sure, the Kamal-isms are there and peppered in the screenplay and dialogues (like the traitor’s blood being splattered to form an India map, like Andrea tearing up a burqah before showing the bad guy his place, Wisam’s verbal duel with the character smartly named ‘Eeswar’, the character played by Mahadevan etc).  But all of Kamal’s messages get buried under the ho-hum screenplay of a yawn-inducing spy game.

Andrea’s character spends most of her screen time trying to mock Nirupama which turns out to be irritating as the movie goes forward as if she has no other function in the team but to get Nirupama all jealous. And when she finally gets to put on her action boots, it is a treat, but short-lived. Pooja Kumar is fine and gets an upgrade from playing the irritating comic relief from the first time around. She even gets to put her real-life scuba diving skills to use in one of the key portions of the movie. But her character’s sudden U-turn in personality is rather perplexing.

Rahul Bose and Jaideep literally has nothing to do this time around but to appear as mere props. Which is a shame as much was expected from the Wisam-Omar showdown that we were promised at the climax of the 2013 film.  The screenplay not being able to give enough scope for the villains is the biggest issue the sequel has.

Ghibran’s background score is a major plus factor to the scenes, and one of the few positives of Vishwaroopam 2.  The action sequences are decent but not anything groundbreaking. Despite packed with gore, it never sizzles on screen and at times appear labored.

Those expecting a sequel of high standards will be ultimately disappointed by Vishwaroopam 2. It neither lacks the pace and tension of a spy thriller nor the complexities of a gritty spy drama. If it is still trying to drive home the message regarding ‘good muslim’ vs ‘bad muslim’ like the original did, I suggest last week’s MULK which does a bold and better job of it without any pretense.

With nothing fresh on offer, and no strong antagonist, Vishwaroopam 2 is an unnecessary and predictable sequel that bores you out completely. As mentioned earlier, it is decently and even painstakingly mounted but serves no purpose. This one is clearly Mission: Forgettable!

Irudhi Suttru Tamil Movie Review: No Knock Out This

“Do not meddle with the way I coach”, says Prabhu (R Madhavan) to the assistant coach. “If I had listened to you, she would be cleaning toilets like you do”, he says pointing out to the aspiring woman boxer Madhi (Ritika Singh). “I may be the one cleaning toilets, Sir” replies the assistant coach, played by the excellent Nasser. “But you are the one who stinks”, he retorts with arguably the best line written for Tamil cinema this year. (And the year has just begun!). It is, therefore, so very disappointing that Sudha Kongara(Story/Screenplay/Direction) and Arun Matheshwaran (dialogues) choose to punch below their weight and could get this brilliance  only occasionally transmitted on the screen. (But Sudha delivers as a filmmaker – more about that later).Continue reading “Irudhi Suttru Tamil Movie Review: No Knock Out This”

Uttama Villain (2015) Movie Review : Mortal Fear

Uttama Villain Movie PosterYour mind is tuned to a beginning, middle and end. You are used to certain number of peaks (drama) in the screenplay. You think a good story must have twists and turns. You are unsure about how to react to just narrating a story about a life as life is. And you hate a film because of your prejudice. And the film slowly grows on you. Over time, you start saying that the movie was a classic. This has happened earlier with Iruvar, Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam. It is likely to happen with Uttama Villain. Uttama Villain (English: Virtuous Villain) is a 2015 Tamil comedy-drama film directed by Ramesh Aravind and written by Kamal Haasan. presented by N. Lingusamy in association with Kamal Haasan and produced by S. Chandrahasan for Raaj Kamal Films International and N. Subash Chandrabose for Thirrupathi Brothers.
Continue reading “Uttama Villain (2015) Movie Review : Mortal Fear”

Imaging Cinema 2014: Screenwriting and Filmmaking Workshop at IIT Madras

Imaging Cinema Poster_For Web (4)IIT Madras is presenting  Imaging Cinema 2014, a Screenwriting-cum-Filmmaking Workshop from 7-14 June. The focus is on various aspects of screenwriting. Sessions on screenwriting will be conducted by experienced resource persons. Special session on aspects of direction and screenwriters will be conducted by established names from Mumbai and South Indian cine industries. Continue reading “Imaging Cinema 2014: Screenwriting and Filmmaking Workshop at IIT Madras”

I am Row(die) Rat(whored)

 

Yesterday I felt some tremors inside my tiny brain which anyways never function but has been slowly and surely breached to be unresponsive towards humanity and sensitivity for viewing some mind blasting flicks such as Tezz, Ishaqzaade, Department and Rowdy Rathore .

Long time ago when internet had made a foray into our lives, guys and girls used to make a beeline at cybercafés across their respective lanes to explore a phenomenon called as CHAT. Yahoo mail id’s were created, chat rooms were full and there used to be a long list of unknown people in your messenger list who sometimes even met or even got in an affair and the lucky ones even had a chance to ding-dong just for the thrill of it. Over the years it has faded with advent of Facebook, Twitter etc. and nobody seems to be interested on that route. But on a lazy Sunday, I took the brave option of venturing inside a chat room just like I was courageous enough to watch Rowdy Rathore last night.

My experience of watching it can be summed up by the sheer force of chat requests and spamming I was subjected to on my entire time spent there.

UTV_Loosemotions: Hi People, whats up everyone?

Sanjay_Laila4u: Anyone want to chat with a lonely and depressed guy after some big flops?

Prabhu_LongD:  I need a strong boy to tell me what to do. IM me if thats you.

Sanjay_Laila4u: I just got out of the shower… I need help pickin my career.. suggestions fellas?

Prabhu_LongD: you can always hit me up in private msg, friendly male here

RajaMaullied: so im thinking its time to get freaky. Remake a nasty hit boyz!

Sanjay_Laila4u: im sooo tired of my depressing crap

RajaMaullied: make me laugh and ill send you somethin special guys

Sanjay_Laila4u: My next film will be shot entirely outdoors.. 🙂

Prabhu_LongD: I will never remake a film 😀

RajaMaullied: ROFLMAO =)) …. I give you Vikramarkudu

Akki_NoChest: is this room full of beardos?

Prabhu_LongD:  add me if youre lookin for a hit fella

Forehead_Sona: Howdy im a busty lady, work with middle age guys

Prabhu_LongD, Akk_NoChest, Sanjay_Laila4u  to Forehead_Sona: Webcam request pending

UTV_Loosemotions: Don’t hit on me…Balan will be furious

Forehead_Sona: hey handsome men damsel in distress here msg me hehe

Horny_Sajid_Wajid: No one can compete here with us in this department

Ramu_Aag: Department….Don’t ANGRY me

Sandeep_Chowta: Rathore…Rathore…Rathore…Rathore…Will give a thumping 😛 I mean background score

Nasser_hamguy: Ummm…..I will play a Chennai ka Bihari…

Akki_NoChest: My futcka….440 watt jhatkka

Forehead_Sona: Webcam permission given

Yashpal_SharmaNoSharam: im taking off my clothes on my web cam now (Removed from chat room)

Prabhu_LongD: so ive got a hit on and thats about it. any fellas interested? (Marked as Spam)

Sanjay_Laila4u: Finally I will get a hit (Report for Abuse)

Akki_NoChest: Don’t angry me…I do what I say..I do what I don’t say too (Ignore User Permanently)

Ajay Nair: Yahoo ID & Messenger deleted

If my above conversation does not make any sense so does the movie. I am thankful that you guys took the pain of reading it because you need to take a bath again for reading this trash and I am off writing for a long long time after this.

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)

Bombay – City on Fire

bombay

One of the most anticipated films from the time it was announced, ‘Bombay’ created a big furore over its content and was an extremely controversial film due for release. Even though the Tamil version had a smooth projection in March 1995 but the Hindi dubbed version was making sensational headlines on front cover pages with almost all political activists like Shiv Sena etc. calling for a ban. Being an ABCL presentation helped it to a great extent as Mr.Bachchan’s proximity with Mr.Bal Thackeray helped in getting the movie a clearance, who had his own reservations even with the name of the film but, eventually gave his consent.

But that was not the case with the Muslim fundamentalists as they objected to a lot of scenes in the movie (lifting of the burqa by the male protagonist, the female protagonist taking the quran while absconding to Bombay with the chanting of verses in the backgroud are the ones to name a few) and needed a cut even after the Censor board had cleared the same. The movie was pulled out of theatres from the first day of its schedule release in Mumbai without a show being live and there were violent protests all across here. Finally it got released on the subsequent Tuesday amidst heavy security with cinema halls looking like a battle fort and strict policing as the movie went on to create history.

I have great admiration towards Mani Ratnam for making films on various subjects which take inspiration from real life and that includes famous epics, social issues, terrorism, politics and history. His films are always an excellent combination of his vision with great camerawork and amazing music.

I can recall very few films being viewed in theatres during my earlier days and Bombay is one such film that still remains etched in my memory mainly due to the topical theme and the turmoil it created near its release.

Shekhar (Arvind Swamy) is the youngest son of traditional Hindu parents and working as a journalist in Bombay with The Indian Express. On return to his seaside village he catches the glimpse of a young burqa clad woman Shaila Banu (Manisha Koirala) when her veil is lifted by the breeze. Infatuated in love instantly with her (Mani Ratnam doesn’t waste much time to make his characters fall in love), Shekhar spots her the second time at a Muslim community wedding which is shot against the backdrop of the beautiful song ‘Kannalane/Kehna Hi Kya’. Shekhar’s intensity grows in stature accordingly with such small occasional meets and does not care for the consequences of being in love to a girl from different community neither hesitates to express it. On the other hand Shaila is reluctant initially but eventually agrees to his passion. Please listen to my favourite song here.

Obstacles and trouble arise when Shekhar takes the marriage proposal to Shaila’s father, who is furious and unwilling about it. Shekhar’s father too disagrees and lands up confronting Basheer to keep his daughter away from his son resulting in a fallout with Shekhar who returns back to Bombay.

Always in touch with Shaila through letters, Shekhar sends her rail ticket to Bombay who eventually runs away from home and on arrival they both get married on the same day at a marriage register office. Being happily married with twin sons, the film goes in dark territories as tension sparks in the city with communal riots happening after the demolishment of Babri Masjid, where thousands are killed in the violence. It moves on to a powerful drama of the religious fights that tore the city apart and how bigger tragedies occur to their peaceful little world and to the city which never sleeps. Mani Ratnam hurls all the horrors and chaos of fusing religious fanaticism in your face.

The second half of this film works very well where the riots are depicted with outstanding authenticity and is disturbing as well. Relationship between the fathers of the main protagonists which is very tense initially melts away as they accept their children’s marriage over a period of time. Both Nasser (Narayan) and Kitty (Basheer) who portrays their respective role, having silly fights when they come to Bombay are a joy to watch. Some scenes between the two are excellent and particularly one is a masterstroke where Basheer comes to Narayan’s rescue after making his way back home from Aarti and confronted by people belonging to the minority who stops and questions them. Basheer intervenes and informs them that Narayan is his brother and gets emotional for having saved his life and the state of affairs around.

Or the scene where Narayan risks his life to take Basheer’s quran and the cylinder blasts while they try to get out of a brning house. The background score for the second half is an achievement and enhances every moment. The transvestite guy who shelters and feeds one of the twin kids is marvellous in a small role. The best moments in ‘Bombay’ are captured while the city burns in hell and is Mani Ratnam’s attempt for bringing the issue of religious divide. What begins as an innocent romantic fluff becomes a heart tugging, almost claustrophobic experience as the two parents look for their children lost in the confusion.

Technically Bombay has terrific camera work and an amazing score. Mani had briefed Rajeev Menon that the film being about riots, they needed the 1st half to be as beautiful as possible. Having a lot of blues the exteriors where shot in Kasargod-Kerala and the interiors of homes in Pollachi-Tamil Nadu. The moist atmosphere in the opening scene and the rains in village are magnificently captured on screen.

The city of Bombay was created on two streets and even Thota Tharrani deserves a special mention for his brilliant artwork in recreating the riot filled atmosphere.

A R Rahman’s outstanding soundtrack as well as the BGM is what makes ‘Bombay’ a wonderful journey, be it ‘Kannalane/Kehna Hi Kya’ or an emotionally filled ‘Uyire/Tu Hi Re’ and the catchy ‘Humma Humma’, all songs still make for a melodious listen and have tremendous recall value. Bombay Theme is one of the best instrumental pieces in world music and was even used in Andrew Nicol’s Lord of War.

Arvind Swamy is convincing with his performance as the romantic lead first and then a concerned father and husband post interval. Manisha Koirala’s performance is a revelation and this was her big ticket film where she is charming as a sweet and innocent Shaila and equally warm and protective as the mother. There are some tender moments aplenty between Arvind and Manisha, and they share a terrific chemistry making them highly believable as a couple on screen. Prakash Raj is in a blink and miss role as a police inspector with Tinnu Anand and Akash Khurana as the religious heads being adequate.

At the heart of ‘Bombay’ lies the message of peace and unity regardless of our religious background and it also makes a point that such fights are senseless, where innocent lives suffer more often than not. ‘Bombay’ is a beautifully told story with Mani Ratnam at the peak of his powers, making it an unforgettable film.

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)

Roja-The Rose That Smelled A Genius

ROJA

With around 10 films (in all four major South Indian languages) under his belt and 3 National Awards to his credit, Mani Ratnam had become a big thing down South. Feroze Khan had officially adapted one of his films ‘Nayagan’ into ‘Dayavan’. And ‘Anjali’ as a children’s film also became popular among many families. However, the director was yet to become a household name outside the South Indian Film Industry. That’s when ROJA happened.

Mani Sir’s penchant for films revolving around terrorism and terror stricken families is not uncommon. From Kannathil Muththamittaal, Dil Se, to Bombay (not terror but Mumbai riot), he has dealt with the repercussions of violence with varied plots and intriguing storylines. And Roja was one of his earliest attempts at the same.

Everyone’s aware of the political turmoil that has been plaguing the Kashmir valley from time immemorial. For a regional film industry, dealing with national or internationally sensitive issues is itself a tough task, because you risk the chances of disconnect with the local audience. In that margin itself, Roja stands out as a brave film.

But that act of bravery is the least of the credible aspects of ROJA. For me, the factors that work majorly in favour of ROJA are:

1) the love story between Madhu & Arvind
2) the politics of language
3) Pankaj Kapur as the terrorist with a good heart
4) the MUSIC

1. Lets start with the Love Story.

I won’t talk about the plotline, coz I am sure everyone here is already aware of the same. I still remember the scene where Arvind Swamy chooses Madhu over her elder sister (of course there was a reason behind it) and her reaction about that. The man she adored at the first sight suddenly appears as the villain, for having chosen her for marriage. The coldness in her reaction continues till the revelation comes, just before they head off to Kashmir. Though the Hindi dialogue ‘main bohut bhola dikhta hoon na?’ [or something like that] sounded extremely cheesy, but the chemistry between Arvind & Madhu more than made up for it. Two more scenes that work brilliantly for the film:

a) When Arvind gets kidnapped – the entire scene is sudden and shocking. The way Madhu helplessly chases the cars for so long leaves me with goosebumps everytime I see the film.
b) The climax when Arvind is finally set free and he staggers across the bridge, with Madhu running in from the other end, with ‘Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyaara Hai’ playing in the background. That scene never fails to moisten my eyes.

Of course, the entire passion in their love, her interactions with the temple guy, his attempts to flee and save the Indian flag – it would be very tough to segregate great scenes from a film, which has scores of those.

2. The Politics of Language

It is a rarely discussed thing in Indian cinema – which is almost always lost in its delusion of happiness. Especially, in a country like India, where every region is distinct in its choice of language, culture and traditions, the politics of language is a very big thing. We all know about the Hindi – non-Hindi divide that is still deterrent in a true amalgamation of South & North India. While the former thinks that Hindi has been pushed down their throats as a National Language, the latter ridicules the former for being non-conversant with it. Roja, in a subtle non-controversial way, presented this disparity in the conversation between Roja (the Tamilian girl who doesn’t understand Hindi) and the primarily Sikh army officers who don’t understand Tamil. The plight of the woman who is trying to convince the soldiers to help her husband and yet the inability to communicate the same was one of the masterstrokes of the film. Special mention is deserved by the actor who played the temple guy who acts as the mediator cum translator between Roja and the army men. What irked me about the Hindi version of Roja, was the fact that this entire aspect of the film got diluted. What was a Tamil – Hindi debate, became a Hindi – English thing, where the focus shifted from the language war to that of literacy and illiteracy. I know there was not much way out for the director when he wanted to come out with the dubbed Hindi version. Yet…

3. Pankaj Kapur as Liaqat

If Shahid were half as good an actor as his father, he would have been a superstar. There is no denying the fact that the film belonged to Madhu, who as the eponymous protagonist, put in an extremely earnest effort and did a fabulous job at portraying Roja. It was the role of her career and a dream-role for any actress to portray. Arvind Swamy became a sensation among women. And all the aunties went lusting about the soft faced, thick mustached, plump man (by Bollywood standards at least) who, no doubt, played the role of Rishi (the ideal husband – citizen – journalist) ably. But he hammed a bit too much in his emotional scenes, where he overacted (in my opinion) to express the pain and honour. Though I must mention that the scene where he risks his life to save the burning Indian flag is one of the highpoints of the film and Arvind Swamy deserves all the claps that he got for that scene. The Kashmiri girl, who serves food to Arvind and delivers a soft corner for him, left a strong impact even in that miniscule role. However, Pankaj Kapur as the terrorist with ideals – and trying to balance the counter forces running in his heart, is simply outstanding. The man has given several delectable performances and Roja is a reaffirmation of his standard. His respect for Arvind Swamy’s character, gradual dilemma over his own actions (especially after the death of his brother), staunchness of thoughts, every reaction is so balanced that you almost feel bad for him at the end. You know the mark of a great actor when he converses with his eyes, and you overlook his physical stature because his character rises way beyond it. While reminiscing Kapur’s performance in Roja, I cannot help but think of another extra-ordinary performance by this actor (of course he has many more) in Maqbool.

4. MUSIC

We all know that ROJA was the launchpad for the most revered musician of today’s film music – A R Rahman. Everyone knows Mani Sir prefers working with the best technician available in the industry. He had a long collaboration with the great music director Ilaiyaraja in his previous films. However, with ROJA, Mani Sir brought a new guy to the recording. And trust one genius to find another. Rahman came, Rahman saw, Rahman conquered. Every song in the album is a marvel – proudly reflecting the magnificence of the composer. Not only the debut of Rahman, ROJA also ushered the entire concept of digitally composed music into the Indian film fraternity. The fact that TIME Magazine has listed Roja’s album as one of the top 10 soundtracks of all time speaks a lot about the quality of it. However, the irony is that the weakest of the songs (though not weak by any standard margin) was also the most popular – Rukhmini Rukhmini with its corny lyrics and peppy beats became an instant hir. My favourites, however, are Dil Hai Chhota Sa and Yeh Haseen Wadiya.. The lilting melody coupled with Chitra and Hariharan’s voice spell magic even now.. (Yes, I am referring to the Hindi names for the songs because that’s how I have heard them, loved them and remembered them).. The background music is equally amazing with Bharat Humko Jaan as the only non-lip sync song being extremely effective..

What made the songs even more special were the visuals – whether it’s the lush green Tamil Nadu, the small boat floating over the river, or the snow capped terrain of Kashmir, Santosh Sivan’s camera enhanced the mood of every song. The DOP, one of the finest in the country, has produced some other great works with Ratnam as well, which include Dil Se and Raavan / Raavanan. His brilliance has already been elaborated in some of the previous posts in the Blogathon, so I won’t repeat the same..

Roja is definitely one of the current age classics, and will go down as a trendsetter for many reasons. Undoubtedly a technical wonder, with a strong political undertone (it had been rumoured that Roja became so popular that even the terrorists of Kashmir got a copy of it), what makes the film glitter the most is the strong humane element and the undying love (one of the most under-rated romances of Indian cinema) between the pair. At the same time, when a filmmaker creates a wonder like Roja, he has to live up to the burden of maintain such high standards everytime he sets out to make a movie. To an extent, Roja suffers from the successor syndrome. Though Mani Sir has created some brilliant film post Mumbai, none have come up to Roja. Though I can’t claim to have seen all his works, but of those that I have, Nayagan is the only one I can give a stature as high as Roja. Given the fact that Mani Sis is making a female protagonist film (KADAL) now, almost 20 years post ROJA, it would be very interesting to see if the director can make his forthcoming work match up to his previous films.

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)