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”

Bombay (1995): Mani Ratnam’s ode to the city that never sleeps

Bombay now Mumbai, was a city considered to be a cosmopolitan city, a city which was only concerned about making money and not interested in knowing from where you have come from or who were you.  Post ’92, the fault line has run deeply with ghettos that are now an integral part of my city.  For a city which is the epicenter of Bollywood, there are hardly any movies based on ’92 riots. The one which comes to my mind are Bombay and Black Friday, both coincidentally directed by people by non natives. Continue reading “Bombay (1995): Mani Ratnam’s ode to the city that never sleeps”

18 Years on, Dil Se Lives on: A True Classic in Every Sense

What do you say about a film where the very first scene teaches you something new? Despite being good with geography I had no clue of a place called Haflong, but thanks to Dil Se I know that it is a hill station in Assam. What do you say about a film where the hero and the heroine hardly communicate the first time that they meet, so much so that the hero actually remarks at the end of it saying this must be the World’s shortest love story. And what can you actually say when that is followed by a song which is not just a personal favourite, but a song that shook the entire Nation and is popular to this day Internationally as well, the brilliantly choreographed, composed and executed number, “Chaiyya Chaiyya”. Even if the film had nosedived after that I would perhaps have still not really complained, but then there was no need to as it turned out to be a film for which there is everything and more going in its favour.Continue reading “18 Years on, Dil Se Lives on: A True Classic in Every Sense”

Revisiting Bala's Naan Kadavul

By now Bala has earned a solid reputation for himself and is easily hailed as one of the torchbearers of the new wave Tamil Cinema movement. So it was quite surprising last year when he went on to make a relatively light hearted film,Avan Ivan. But now with Paradesi, Bala seems to have got back to his familiar territory. So at this juncture it is of course not surprising that I am reminded of Bala’s iconic Naan Kadavul.Continue reading “Revisiting Bala's Naan Kadavul”

Billa II Movie Review: Return of the Don

That Billa 2 has been one of the most anticipated Tamil movies this year is something almost everybody would agree. This is not surprising at all considering that Billa/Don as a franchise has worked well so far in all the versions across languages. Considering that announcements of both Don 2 and Billa 2 were made around the same time, comparisons also cropped up with respect to how each of them would turn out to be & what sort of influence would Don 2 have on Billa 2 if any ( considering Don 2 came out before Billa 2, similar to Don coming out before Billa ). Thankfully later on it was revealed that Don 2 would be a sequel while Billa 2 would be a prequel. After Vishnuvardhan stepped out of the project to focus on Panjaa with Pawan Kalyan the movie was lying in limbo for a while before the producers roped in Chakri Toleti to helm the project. Once again it was time for people to start comparing and wondering if Chakri could do even half as good a job that Vishnu did with Billa.

Nearly a year after last year’s mega success Mankatha released, its time for Ajith’s next release, Billa 2. While I did go in with a lot of hope I also kept in mind the fact that its directed by Chakri Toleti who in his previous film ( Unnai Pol Oruvan/Eenadu ) had a template ( that of A Wednesday ) to work upon whereas here he had to more or less work from scratch. Also what made it difficult was the fact that Billa being a popular franchise/brand there had to be relevant connect between Billa 2 and Billa. So does the film go on to meet/exceed expectations? Or does it disappoint? And does Chakri deliver? Well these are questions I’d like to cover in the rest of the post.

The movie begins with David Billa (Ajith) coming in as a refugee to South Tamil Nadu and living in a refugee camp. The camp is under the supervision of a tyrant (Krishna Kumar) with whom Billa locks horns. It’s also here at the camp that Billa finds the company of likeminded people which mainly includes Ranjith (Yog Japee). A mission that was originally meant to turn fatal for Billa and Ranjith goes in their favour and that’s when they earn the good will of Annachi ( Ilavarasu ) and begin smuggling diamonds. A chance encounter with Kota ( Manoj K.Jayan ) and later his boss Abbasi ( Sudhanshu Pandey ) works out well for Billa and he shifts base to Goa and starts working with Abbasi. That’s when Billa gets in contact with Dimitri (Vidyut Jamwal ), an international arms dealer based out of Boravia, Georgia. While Billa wants to work along with Dimitri, Abbasi is not in favour.

Here is when Billa decides to go on his own path and the movie then moves ahead and focuses on how Billa progresses and also how he tackles the people who are against him. Truth be told there’s nothing unique about the plot as such. And the collaborative writing (by Chakri Toleti, Sarath Mandava, Jaffer Mohammed and Era Murukan) at places seems to have got a bit haywire as the focus is clearly on connecting the dots and establishing the link between this film and Billa. And as a fellow author here, Jox John pointed out there also liberal borrowings from Scarface but thankfully somehow they’ve managed to overall keep the proceedings rooted enough to get the connect right.

The film does start off in a very impressive note. The fight scene at the beginning sets up the tempo and this is followed by the opening credit sequence which is brilliant and conveys the entire past history of David Billa right from his early childhood days, till the moment when he lands up as a refugee seeking asylum. From there on Billa’s gradual transformation into the suave and dreaded underworld leader is neatly established. The dialogues are subtle but carry enough ammunition to please Ajith’s fans. Sample this for example “Ennoda nanbana irukkarudhuku oru thaguthiyum vendam, aana  edhiri aa irukkarudhukku,thaguthi venum “(to be my friend one needs no qualifications/status but to be my enemy one one needs it ) or ‘Dai Een vazhkayil oovaru nalum, oovaru nimushumam, oovaru nodiyum, nanna sethukanathu da… ‘(Every day, every minute and every second of my life has been sculpted by me )

In a film which features an extremely popular hero it’s always difficult to do justice to the supporting characters but thankfully Chakri Toleti has managed to take care of that aspect reasonably well. The connect with Vishnuvardhan’s Billa is further established with the presence of Ranjith and Jagdish (Rahman) who play important characters in the earlier Billa. While over here Rahman is seen in just a single scene Yog Japee who plays Jagdish plays an integral part of the proceedings over here. The other gangsters like Abbasi, Dimitri and Kota also get significant presence in the film.

Yog Japee is efficient as he was in Billa and it’s interesting to see Sudhanshu Pandey playing a slightly elderly character with reasonable ease. Vidyut Jamwal as the Dimitri is a surprise choice as the Russian arms dealer. While it’s good to see Dimitri play a proper Russian by speaking either in Russian or in heavy accented English (thank God we don’t see him speaking in Tamil 🙂 ) it would have been good to see him doing more stunts knowing what he’s capable of . Manoj K.Jayan , Ilavarasu and Krishna Kumar also do their parts convincingly.

Ajith with Bruna Abdullah

But none of the female characters carry any depth in the film. Be it Janaki Sabesh who plays Ajith’s sister, Parvathy Omanakuttan who plays Jasmine, Billa’s niece who harbors a crush on Billa or Bruna Abdullah as Sameera a typical moll who gets to flaunt her body more than mouth dialogues 🙂 . If the opening credits were impressive then also look out for the way the ‘Unakkule Mirugam’ song (sung by Ranjith) unfolds on screen- a mix of graphic novel style coupled with still shots with a blood red tinge, very well done indeed. Talking about the music Yuvan’s work ( lyrics for all songs by Na.Muthukumar ) is good in parts. Songs like ‘Yedho Mayakkam’ ( sung by Yuvan Shankar Raja, Tanvi Shah, Suvi Suresh ) and ‘Gangster’ ( sung by Yuvan Shankar Raja, Stefny ) are good but compared to the soundtrack of Billa the soundtrack of Billa 2 is a bit disappointing.

Another plus point to the film is the rich production values and for that a big credit goes to the cinematography by R.D.Rajasekhar. Be it the  interesting outdoor shots of Goa or Georgia ( which looks picture postcard like ) or the interior shots especially in the 1st half, the camera work lights up the screen and gives a much needed support to the film overall. The pace is slightly uneven especially in the 2nd half but at a total run time of just 129 minutes the film does manage to maintain momentum almost throughout the duration. But one must admit that there could have been a lot more edginess to the plot especially in the 2nd half after the film begins on a rather impressive note.Another aspect to be appreciated is the attention to details by and large with respect to the location or the period being referred to. For example towards the 2nd half one can notice people using mobile phones but the older and bulkier ones, not the flashy ones seen today which indicate that the period referred to was a few years ago.The art direction and SFX work also add to the film looking visually appealing. The stunts are all well done and the climax helicopter fight while being interesting could have been developed even better.

But in spite of everything if the film does manage to keep you engaged till the end then its only because of one man, Ajith. He easily fits into the character of David Billa and appears so casual yet comfortable in the role that it looks like he has just taken off from where he left of in Billa around 5 years ago. As the story progresses there is a physical transformation that’s visible in his appearance and Ajith appears totally comfortable with his trademark dialogue delivery.  It also helps when the director realizes what his hero’s comfort zone is  and utilizes him accordingly. Now if only Chakri Toleti could have also conjured up a plot that would have been a lot more interesting it would have made for an even more engrossing film.

On an overall basis this is a film which would appeal to Ajith fans certainly and for those who watch it without a lot of expectation but probably for those expecting something extraordinary considering the hype surrounding the film, Billa 2 may just be a shade too disappointing.

Trailer of Billa 2 ( New )

After the initial teaser promo that was launched, the full fledged trailer of Billa 2 was being eagerly awaited. Earlier supposed to be released a few hours ago ( 2 July ) in a glittering event at Chennai’s Anna Centenary Library, the event was later on cancelled at short notice, much to the dismay of Ajith‘s fans. But the Billa 2 team has kept their promise of releasing the trailer on the same date and they went ahead with a simple online release.Continue reading “Trailer of Billa 2 ( New )”

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)

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)