20 Years of Kandukondain Kandukondain: A Pioneering Tamil Film In Many Ways

As I write this, we are 6 weeks into the lockdown, all thanks to the Covid-19 situation & most of us are working from home. With cinemas being closed (and with no clarity of when they will reopen again) and Satellite T.V facing an acute shortage of content (hence the re-runs of old soaps and reality shows), its thanks to the various digital/OTT platforms that we are managing to get our regular dose of entertainment. And with a mention of digital/OTT platforms it is also mandatory to add the point that in today’s times, the language barrier is not as severe as before and thanks to English subtitles (let me not elaborate on this as it requires a separate article by itself) a lot of regional cinema (and web-series) is being watched by people who aren’t fluent with the language in particular. Similarly, Hindi cinema (and web-series) is continuing to reach out to those who do not understand a single word of Hindi.Continue reading “20 Years of Kandukondain Kandukondain: A Pioneering Tamil Film In Many Ways”

20 Years of Indian: When Shankar and Kamal Haasan Created History

Let’s go 20 years back, to the day, May 9th, 1996, when the epic masterpiece Indian released and how it has stayed strong in the history of cinema.

Just like how today cinema lovers are in frenzy with the excitement of waiting to see how a young director Pa. Ranjith is going to direct Superstar Rajinikanth in Kabali, back then after the announcement of Indian with Shankar going to direct Kamal Haasan should have created the same excitement. As after all Shankar was the happening director in Tamil Cinema with two back to back blockbusters Gentleman and Kadhalan, who had arrived in cinema with a bang! Another notable coincidence between Shankar and Pa. Ranjith is that their third film is with Kamal Haasan and Rajinkanth respectively !!!Continue reading “20 Years of Indian: When Shankar and Kamal Haasan Created History”

Avargal (1977): A Melody Of Human Understanding

Language : Tamil | Running Time : 159 Minutes | Director : K. Balachander

Avargal PosterA few minutes of a train journey in Avargal and you have family dynamics come alive. You see a young woman in love, her man has proclaimed to wait for her no matter how long it takes, her parents themselves fell in love and got married, so she is sure that there will be no opposition. They are the kind of people who can make fun of each other and still be together, their daughter always taking the dad’s side. This is family dynamics you see at your home, when your sister teases your mother and holds your dad’s hand when she is doing it. This family dynamic is ever present in a K.Balachander movie where people in the family talk like  regular people do. In a K.Balachander movie, people always feel real, the canvas may seem like a theater stage, sometimes over the top but the people are never over the top, they are underscored, real, the neighbours and family members you have heard of and seen. Somewhere along the way, our movies failed to hold on to such writing, we started approaching writing differently, the themes changed and have kept on changing. I am not sure I’d say that our writing has evolved better but our staging certainly has.Continue reading “Avargal (1977): A Melody Of Human Understanding”

Kannathil Muthamittal- An Innocent Journey of a Girl

Sometimes a film impresses you right from the word go. It consistently meets or even surpasses your expectations as the story unfolds, but somehow, just the way it ends disappoints you. Kannathil Muthamital is that kind of a film for me.
Mani Ratnam’s biggest strength is to make films which despite being unconventional are very mainstream. Kannathil Muthamital is no exception. Here he tackles subjects like adoption and the LTTE movement in Srilanka. But he does not fail even once to take the lowest common denominator of the audience into consideration. It is a feature which was evident in the recent Hindi film Paan Singh Tomar as well. In Kannathil Muthamital, an almost 9 year-old Amudha(P.S. Keerthana) doesn’t know that she is an adopted child. Her parents G.Thiruchivelan(Madhavan) and Indra(Simran) have decided to let her know the truth on her 9th birthday. Amudha gets a little disturbed on knowing the truth and is determined to know the identity of the woman who gave her birth. She even flees away from home in her search to Rameshwaram which is Indra and Thiruchivelan’s hometown and also the place from where Amudha was adopted.Thus forcing her parents to tag along who finally give in to her plea and agree to fly to Srilanka to find Amudha’s biological mother as she is most likely to be found there.

In the lovely prologue, we are introduced to Amudha’s biological parents Shyama and Dileepan, a newly married Tamil speaking Srilankan couple. The war-torn land is no ideal place to grow a child and hence Dileepan, who is involved in the war, doesn’t want a child as of now much against Shyama’s wishes. He gets sucked into the war and doesn’t return home for days. Meanwhile, despite their planning Shyama gets pregnant and hence is rushed across the shore to India as there are much better facilities there. The prologue ends withShyama reaching a Refugee Camp in Rameshwaram in India and delivering a baby girl, whom she leaves to the care of an orphanage and returns to Srilanka to join her husband.

It surely is a fascinating plot and Mani Saar, as expected, is up to the task. The prologue very effectively gives you an idea of the whole situation of Srilankan Tamils. Also,the soulful Vellai Pookal sung and composed by A.R.Rahman plays in the background during this part, all of which enchant you instantly. But the high point of the film for me is easily the camaraderie among Amudha and the family which has adopted her. The film has quite a few exceptional scenes involving Amudha, Thiruchivelan and Indra. One of them is a scene where Amudha after a long and hard try does manage to make Indra forgive her mischief. At this moment Thiruchivelan is keenly observing the mother-daughter pair embracing each other as Indra accepts Amudha’s apology. Well aware of Thiruchivelan’s habit of getting inspired from real life situations in his writing, Amudha and Indra both playfully threaten him from including the just happened events, involving themselves, in his novels.

Madhavan’s performance was a revelation for me. This is by far the best I have seen him acting on screen. The character sketched for him by Mani Ratnam is definitely a triumph. A popular andemphatic writer, Thiruchivelan is a thoughtful, polite, firm and straightforward man. He doesn’t like free advice andcounts the belief that to become a writer you need to have a spark since birth as an absolute lie. Thiruchivelan always has his wits about himself and to pacify Amudha he does give in to her demand and decides that they will go to Srilanka to search Amudha’s biological mother.

Simran too is spot on playing Indra. The slightly low-tempered but a caring and loving mother, Indra is also a news reader on a TV channel. She is particularly impressive in the flashback romance segment of the film. Here too Mani Ratnam shows his class. Ravi K. Chandran’s cinematography also shines out in this part which is shot in the coastal town of Rameshwaram.Neighbours since childhood Simran&Thiruchivelan have a thing for each other. And it is Simran here who is chasing Thiruchivelan. A scene where she is trying hard to keep up with Thiruchivelan on her bicycle while he is riding a scooter impresses you with its freshness and unconventionality. Thiruchivelan wants to adopt a little girl(Amudha) but can’t as he is a single man and thus finally expresses his love to Indra and they decide to get married. This is why he tells Amudha that they didn’t choose her but she chose them.

But the star of the film is without doubt the little Amudha played by P.S. Keerthana. The talkative, slightly mischievous character could have easily become highly irritating (like in Kuch Kuch Hota Hain), but it doesn’t and thus Keerthana’s performance deserves appreciation. With Anjali, Mani Ratnam had ample experience of extracting the best from children which is a difficult task indeed. Nandita Das, as usual, is up to the mark and J.D. Chakravarthy too doesn’t fail to leave an impression in his short role.

The music by A.R.Rahman without doubt is top class. However, some songs like Vellai Pookal and Amudha’s intro song Sundari gel very well with the film but others like KannathilMuthamital don’t take the story one bit forward. But to compensate the song Kannathil Muthamital has been shot marvelously. Ravi.K.Chandran has been given a free hand and he holds nothing back with a number of breathtaking helicopter shots, crane shots etc on the vast empty expanse of a beach. Even in this highly stylized song there is one moment which stands out for its innocence which is when the camera attached on the crane comes closer to Amudha we see her just about managing to keep her dress from blowing up because of the breeze, a la Marylin Monroe, and hence she gives animpromptu sweet-shy smile.

What also adds to the film’s victory is the writing by Mani Ratnam and Sujatha. Getting to make a film against the back-drop of the Sri-Lankan crisis was never going to be an easy task at all. While we can always debate as to how effective was the portrayal of the conflict in Sri Lanka as shown in the film, we definitely need to admit that there was no glorification of the issue , any overt statement issued or a stand taken per se. In the end in spite of the serious context of violence hovering around, Kannathil Muthamittal still fundamentally remains a simple story of a girl in search of her parents. That we remain glued to Amudha’s journey till the end is in itself a victory for Mani Sir as most of us might agree by now.

Now, let’s come to the disappointing part. It all starts when the family flies to Srilanka. Though the introduction scene to LTTE activism is brilliant, some scenes after that start to get a bit conventional. Some even defy logic and thus leave you disappointed. But nothing upsets you as much as the finale. Mani Ratnam, as a director, is brilliant in the rest of the film but wonder why he opts to finish of the movie in such a manner. The restraint and freshness visible right throughout the film suddenly gives in to melodrama. Some dialogues become predictable and the background score also becomes loud. Sadly, the finale pales in comparison to the excellent built up.

Despite the final moments, Kannathil Muthamital is an eminently watchable film. The performances, the music, the cinematography would definitely not leave you disappointed as a whole.

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)

Dil Se… – The Manifesto of a Man’s Passion

Dil Se… released when I was in the middle of my 10th standard. The songs came out first, and I didn’t have much of an opinion. After the release of the movie too, I don’t think I got any feedback. Those days, friends and followers had a more literal meaning and they were mostly restricted to your class. These hapless souls, chained like me and being led to the altar of public exams half a year later, also wouldn’t have watched the film immediately. Even though I had seen some of Mani Ratnam’s earlier films and liked them, nothing really compelled me to watch it immediately. But by the time the movie left the theatres- which was very soon- my cousin had seen it and was all praises for it. Being my soul mate, his opinion mattered a lot. By this time, with repeated hearing and watching on TV, the songs- as it always happens with Rahman’s- had really grown on me. And then there was that evening…

I caught on TV the sequence of Shah Rukh whispering to Manisha in the dark corridor of an AIR Studio, interrupted by streaks of light and greetings whenever a passer-by opens the door. Never before had I experienced such a use of light and sound, or rather, their absence. I couldn’t catch even a single dialogue then (it was the Tamil version), but was instantly drawn into the melancholic world of Amar and Meghna. I believe it was on that evening he became “Mani Sir”, a dronacharya to me. Watch the video here.

But what to do now? We didn’t even have a VCR at home. This was much before TCRips and DVDScrs (Well, what is a DVD anyway?) Months later, I found out that the movie is playing in a B-class theatre somewhere outside the city. What followed was nothing short of an uprising to make someone take me to the movie (Yeah, people. I had to be “taken”). I vaguely remember that I attempted Bhagat Singh’s path of “loud noise to make deaf ears listen” and Gandhian fasting. However the might of authority brutally quelled it. Later when I was invited to watch movies on a VCR at a friend’s place, I tried to rent Dil Se, but it was not available. It was a year later that I finally got to see it, when it was screened at an open air venue. It matched all of my heightened expectations, and I fell for it completely, much like Amar fell for Meghna at the deserted railway station that rainy night.

But I learned later that the majority did not share my feelings for it- starting with my uncle who accompanied me to the screening and later remarked, “What a waste of three hours!” to my “One of the most beautiful three hours of my life”, to the majority of Indian movie-goers who decided its box office fate. I realised that it was very much a niche film. It might sound silly now, but for years my litmus test for a new friend who displayed similar views on life was, “Do you like Dil Se…?” and a positive answer moved him/her to the inner circle. I compensated for my initial negligence by immersing myself in that familiar melancholy on VCD countless times. I used to claim that I could survive years of solitary confinement if I had the freedom to play this movie. More than just as a movie, I suspect that in those formative years, Amar’s single-mindedness in his desire and passion might have rubbed off on me too.

But this time when I re-watched, I really wanted to put Dil Se… to the acid test. It’s been over a decade since I saw it first. I have grown, undeniably in age and arguably in sensibilities, aesthetics and experiences. And now I write this because, to my delight, I saw the same film again- not a degree less of anything. Excuse me for wasting so many words on my personal life, but that’s what Dil Se… is to me- it’s MY film. And all the above factors contributed in making it so.

I view Dil Se… as the manifesto of a man’s passion. The first shot of the movie shows objects and movements out of focus with strange noises making us crave to know what they are. This more or less speaks of Amar’s life- he belongs to a well-to-do, caring family; has a secure career and a happy married life in the offing. But all he wants is Meghna, who is shrouded in mystery. Despite being amidst loved ones, he chased that one love that eluded him forever. I think this would be the longest journey anyone has taken to get a positive nod to his proposal. People seem confused about the genre of the film. Some catalogue it as the last of Mani Ratnam’s “Terrorism trilogy” after Roja and Bombay. And then accuse it of simplifying the issue of how terrorism is born! To me, Dil Se… is nothing but a love story, whose purpose is neither propaganda nor giving answers but simply telling the intense tale of a man’s love and loss (or gain, depending on how you see it). It speaks on behalf of individuals and their singular experiences. It neither generalises nor attempts to place any element of it above its central theme of love.

As mentioned, the aim of my latest viewing of the film was nitpicking and making sure it’s still worth writing about. All these years, Dil Se… has intuitively been my benchmark of Indian cinema, against which even a couple of Mani Sir’s latest paled. Now, the reason for this dawned on me- it’s simply perfect in every sense, from screenplay to background score. There isn’t even an iota of excess anywhere. Let me just point out one thought that struck me- this film is one of Santosh Sivan’s finest works as a cinematographer. Each of Santosh’s directorial ventures is praised for being a visual treat, but the images he brings in often seem to be excessive technical indulgences, superfluous from a critical point of view. In Dil Se…, there is not a single shot that you can remove from its structure. The same minimalism and maturity is shown by each technical department. In which other movie can you find Bollywood stars in so less make-up? Yet in their most deglamorised roles, Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala look gorgeous, may be because as a dialogue in the movie goes, there can’t be anyone more beautiful than a martyr. And martyrs were what they were.

Ever since I first wanted to see it, I’ve tried to follow each mention of Dil Se… in the media. Years later, Manisha said in an interview that she feels the film was ahead of its time and that it would be the one that would make her grandchildren proud. I’ve also read Mani Ratnam blaming the film’s failure on his ineptitude with Hindi language, an argument I would refute furiously. Dil Se… would simply cease to exist without the poetry of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s dialogues. (Can you believe, I had noted this name back then and was overjoyed when he later debuted as a director with Haasil). I suspect though, that the basic thought behind the dialogues were from Sujatha. The unquestionable superiority of Sujatha Sir and Mani Sir in dealing with romance, which we have witnessed in their other movies, is very much present here too. By now, I know most of the dialogues by heart which allowed me to pay more attention to the rest of the soundtrack and it amazed me again. Mani Sir’s wizardry brings into life the total world of the story by painstakingly giving details of even stray background noise. And it’s those details that makes the scenes magical – their walk as they plan a family and Meghna opens up to him for the first time ever, the later recreation of that scene through the yellow headphone, the night at the old temple in Ladakh where they share their list of likes and dislikes, even Amar’s later scenes with the bubbly Preeti… There were no clichés. Everything was fresh, and it still remains so.

I believe this is the best work of most of the cast and crew- from Farah Khan’s choreography to Allan Amin’s action to Shah Rukh Khan’s acting. The film must have challenged them all to do something that they are not used to doing otherwise in Bollywood- to be natural and authentic. However, the real master who made his mark till eternity through this movie is A R Rahman. As someone who hates the typical song-dance sequences in Hindi cinema, it was a revelation to find song lyrics and choreography taking the movie to a higher level, particularly with “Satrangi Re”. Rarely has the format of a Bollywood musical been exploited with such artistic grace, without yielding completely to market pressures. Personally, it’s my favourite Rahman album, one I will never get tired of. Even in the middle of a noisy crowd, if you randomly play, “Tu To Nahin Hai Lekin Teri Muskurahatein Hain…”, I’ll instantly be pushed into the sad world of the movie. And it’s a sheer pity that we don’t have the practice of releasing soundtrack albums because many of the brilliant tracks (many with lyrics) which would be amazing by themselves are locked to the movie- like the song we hear when Amar finds out after the night at the temple that Meghna has vanished. It forms the base of many tracks from then on- like when he chases the tuba player across Connaught Place. Once Rahman had remarked that the favourite scene he has ever given music to was the one in which the bride’s ornaments are being tried on Meghna. I’m curious to know whether he still thinks so.

It’s very difficult to be objective when trying to write about Dil Se… I must have attempted it in vain at least a couple of times over a decade. Yes, it’s after all a dichotomy- you either love it or you rebuke it. That’s it. The film works for me because I can feel the characters and their world and make a connection with them which deepens with every viewing. These are people we won’t usually come across in real life. The decisions they make are the most uncommon. But the masterly writing makes it all so credible. Compare it with the careless caricatures that we usually see on the Indian screen. Let me take the liberty of giving an example. Each time “Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa”‘s Karthik made advances to Jessie, I was irritated, repelled and totally disconnected. I could never relate to him. His intentions are never convincing, neither are those of the “No-Yes-No” Jessie. But when Amar chased Meghna across the east and north of the subcontinent, there was a certain dignity to it. I lived through him. Each time I also writhed with him in the pain of unrequited love. And at the end, I too couldn’t think of anything but “sleeping in the lap of death” so that I can “drown my body in her soul”…

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)