World Themes for Indian Cinema (Part 2 of 8)

‘EYE’ THINK, THEREFORE ‘EYE’ AM
Co-Blogging Series- Anand Chandrasekharan and Lazy Geek

Dr. Alan Grant: There are two kinds of boys – the ones who want to be astronomers and the ones who want to be astronauts. The astronomer, the paleontologist, gets to study these amazing things from a place of complete safety.
Young Eric: But you never go into space.
Dr. Alan Grant: It’s the difference between imagining and seeing.

Notwithstanding this thought-provoking conversation from Jurassic Park III, probably the only situation where seeing is more valuable than imagining is when you are blind.

The first post in this series focussed on biopics and the life of Ramanujam. This one carries that thread further, focussing on a life that has vision – literally! Affectionately called Dr.V on more than one occasion, it’s the story of Dr.G Venkataswamy.

Dr.G Venkataswamy

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World Themes for Indian Cinema (Part 1 of 8)

Co-Blogging Series- Anand Chandrasekharan and Lazy Geek

The best part of a blog is this: what can be is only a few paragraphs away from what is! The roots for this blog-series were formed during a conversation with Lazy Geek about how world themes will become an increasing part of and be a greater source for inspiration to Indian (and Tamil) cinema. What follows then, is a series of world themes that hopefully inspire Indian cinema.

The Man Who Saw Infinity

ramanujam - the man who saw infinity
Srinivas Ramanujan (1887–1920)

Some of the most memorable movies have been the story of an inspiring man or woman (Malcolm X, A Beautiful Mind, Schindler’s List). There has been some honest cinema made in India recently around the lives of the Poet Bharathi (where I loved Sayaji Shindey play Subramania Bharathi), Kamaraj and Bhagat Singh. Biopics are also my personal favourites: hence the first theme resonates around a life that has been fascinating, inspiring and mystic, all in the same vein – Srinivas Ramanujan.

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Reflections on Mani Ratnam’s Aayitha Ezhuthu

Guest Blog 9 – Anand Chandrasekharan

This is not a film review. You can catch one (some of them reviewing the filmmaker, than the film) here on LazyGeek, here and here. A prolific filmmaker like Mani Ratnam makes one think, by addressing contemporary issues from a human perspective, albeit to finally deliver a commercial film. And Aayitha Ezhuthu did make one think.

Before we move on to other ruminations, the point is worth making that the movie is unlikely to succeed in Hindi (as Yuva) for the same reasons that Nayak (a remake of Shankar’s blockbuster Tamil movie Mudhalvan) failed to impress. It’s surprising that Mani Ratnam, who has made a career of putting his finger on the urban pulse, did not see through this. A theme like Ram Gopal Varma’s Company (based primarily on a Bombay gang) may have local relevance and interpretations, but a screeneplay like Yuva (based primarily on student leaders and their effect on local politics) is unlikely to have much emotional association among North Indian audiences. The Tamil version is definitely a recipe for a blockbuster, and is unlikely to go the direction of Kannathil Muthamittal or Uyire (which received more critical than box-office acclaim).

The timing is impeccable: it comes at a time when the Indian public, primarily the 700 million living in 700,000 villages have spoken in a collective voice through their electoral franchise that India Shining is a farce, when their daily struggles for “Roti, Kapda, Makaan” and “Paani, Sadak, Bijli” are unceasing. The film’s emphasis that as long as the top 1% of India does not extend its hand to the remaining 99%, no one else will, is well-made. My friend and netCore CEO Rajesh Jain‘s As India Develops posts came to mind.

The movie’s theme, Identity, is beautifully expounded upon. People who complain that Mani ‘Sir’ had little to say, need only look at the subtleties in the film. When Michael Vasant spares Inba Sekar towards the end, disparaging not him but his dirty politics, the themed lyrics rang clear:

Aayutham Yedu, Aanavam Sudu…
Thee Pandam Yedu, Theemaiyai Sudu
Irulai Yeritthu Vidu.

(Kill ego with your weapons…Kill evil with your fire…and use it to extinguish darkness…)

A lot has been said about the film being inspired by the Mexican film Ameros Perros (‘Love’s a Bitch’), Kurasowa’s Rashomon, and even Pulp Fiction. To say that a three-way flashback used in a narration belongs to Quentin Tarantino is to say that Al Gore invented the Internet. Yes, there were techniques of story-telling that were unoriginal. But Aayitha Ezhuthu is definitely a good tasting wine, regardless of the fact that it’s packaged in an old bottle.

What does the coincidence, that forms the crux of AKK, have to do our daily lives? We may not remember the day, but certainly the moment when an incident changed the way we think. It may have been an article, a person, even a thought. But it changes everything. That fallibility of human thinking is brought to life well. Of course, one could not have trusted Mani Ratnam any less. It’s not a new theme in film (Amelie, Signs, and Run Lola Run all expound on this theme…more on these in a separate blog…) but has been handled well here, and leads to an excellent ending which respects the audience and does not hand them an over-simplified resolution to a complex and subtle issue (a la “Main Hoon Na”).

As for the events in the film, it definitely kept the audience engrossed. The black and white morality between Madhavan and Surya’s characters reminded one that for every ‘Gentleman’, there is a ‘Kicha’s Appalam’ to deal with. Madhavan’s Vote for Inba Shekar scene and Surya proving of mathematic formulae in jail and his tiffs with Bharathiraja are going to remain in memory for a long time, be filed away under ‘M’ for Mani Ratnam, and be compared with montages that evoke nostalgic memories even today from Dalapathi and Nayagan. It’s hard to deny that the new breed of stars have arrived in South Indian cinema. It also brought back to memory a cable interview that Tina Brown had with Irshad Manji, the author of “The Trouble with Islam”, where she brings out the concept of “Inshtihaad”, which is another way of fighting against an enemy in Islam, but through peace. She hoped that it would replace “Jihad” as the Islamist way of expressing their anger, and it was amazing to see both her faith in Islam as well as her optimism about the Middle East. Such optimism, the essense of Michael Vasant’s character, is contagious.

The two things that stood out were how well the cast and crew brought out the theme of AKK (the last letter in the Tamil language) and the media hype that preceded the movie’s release. Everything I wondered after seeing Ameros Perros came back after AKK, and was summarized by Vairamuthu’s lyrics in “Hey, Goodbye Nanba”:

Andha Saalai Yil Nee Vandhu Seramal…
6 degree yil yen paarvai saayamal
Vilagi Poyirundhaal thollaiye Illai…. Idhu Vendadha Velai.

(If only you hadn’t been at that street; If only my eyes hadn’t tilted 6 degrees; There would have been no trouble…)

Mani Ratnam would probably be wishing he was a little known director whose work gets discovered each time. The only factor that seems to be selling this movie short is his larger than life image. Expectationos, Perros!

Happy Birthday, Mr.Feynman!

Guest Blog 8 – Anand Chandrasekharan

Richard Feynman (1911 – forever)
Member of the Los Alamos Project.
Inventor – Quantum Electrodynamics.
Physicist.
Professor at Caltech.
Nobel Laureate.
Bongo drummer.
Safe-cracker.
Painter of still life.
Reader of heiroglyphics.
Poet.

Here’s my favorite Richard Feynman quartet:

I wonder why, I wonder why,
I wonder why I wonder…
I wonder why I wonder why,
I wonder why I wonder.

Happy birthday, Mr Feynman! Your lectures in Physics continue to inspire as much your poetry will…

Thillana’s Mann Vaasam

Guest Blog 7 – Anand Chandrasekharan

Oorai Vittu Veruooru Vandhaalum, unakku ullirukkum Mann Vasam
Naarai Vittu Poo Uthirndhaalum, Nalla Manama Veesum Mann Vasam
Yaarai Marandhaalum, Yenna Muyandralum, Marakka Mudiyadhu Mann Vasam
Paaraikku Naduvula Padinju Kiddakura Eeram Dhaan da Mann Vasam.

What happens when a bunch of talented people get together, and move well beyond personalities and egos to gracefully share the stage and put up a spirited show that compromises neither on quality nor on originality? The audience has a ball of a time. It’s about a week since THILLANA, the popular Bay area music band, did their annual bash (proceeds of which will be used for Vibha‘s projects in India), and also took the opportunity to bid farewell to Alex Babu, one of the guys who brought the band together (and is now moving back to India). Some thoughts:
– The play, which was a spoof on Kamal Hasan‘s Virumandi was distracting at times, but never boring and held the show together, besides making it more than just another musical event. Good job on integrating it with the music! (the villagers singing Kaadu Potta Kaadu from Karuthamma when a visiting teacher asks them to describe their village, hit the spot besides showcasing Alex’s wonderful vocals). The hard work that had gone into the backdrop design for the village setting and the Poikaal Kudurai definitely showed as well.

– The “all-girls” rendering of Acham Illai (from Indira) and how it was interwoven with the play is worth appreciating. It was also cool to see my friends Kavitha (on the drum pads…she was also the female lead in the play) and Padma (Ragavan’s wife, on the keys) do their thing. Good platform for the artistes to avoid the boredom of doing the same thing and allowing all these evidently multi-talented people to bring out their wares.

– Whenever there was slack in the music (on rare occasions), the projection TV would pick up and keep the audience engaged. Members of the audience got a chance to relive the nostalgia and cheer their favorite singers, writers, and actors as the pictures appeared when the songs were belted out. Fun Tv and its creators left a lasting impression and lifted the energy level of the event!

– Some songs deserve a mention: Ragavan‘s (a good friend of mine) rendering of Yesudas’ National award-winning Rama Katha from the Malayalam film Baratham almost brought the original alive (not to mention, his tamil rendering of some parts of the original lyrics). It also made the day of one of my Keralite friends at a Tamil concert! Same for Adho Andha Paravai (Aayirathil Oruvan), an intensely popular and nostalgic yester-years number, and Thee Kuruviyai (from KKS, original by Harini), which is not an easy song to sing live! The ability of the musicians to recapture the arrangements and the orchestration of the originals definitely lifted the quality of the show a notch. A little known fact is the RagaMan recently playbacked for Kanavu Meipada Vendum.

– One thing no one will complain about is lack of originality. Mukundan (Mux) performed a song from his upcoming music album Drive Time (the album definitely deserves a better name for it to sell!), which sounded fresh and had a good mix of Indian and western influences. Mux also was busy arranging all the songs at the event, and one wondered if that sometimes distracted him from his singing. That said, his rendering of Rakkamma from Dalapathi (backed up again by excellent instrumentation) definitely stamped his talent as a singer in his own right. Also, in what is now a Thillana tradition, the RagaMan wrote an original composition Mann Vasam dedicated to Vibha, which reminded one of lyrics from yester-year songs – simple, philosophical, evocative (the lines used above are from that composition).

– Towards the end, they seemed to cater to the crowd a little much. I honestly half-expected Jana Gana Mana and the cries of O Yuva Yuva from Aayitha Ezhuthu to end the concert, and atleast one song from Kadhal Kondein in the repertoire (in honor of the emerging Yuvan Shankar Raja). Folks who did not want to ‘shake it’ had to tune out for the last 20 minutes. Also, the rendering of the two Boys‘ songs (Dating and Boom Boom) and last year’s best song, Uyirin Uyire from <a href="http://www.kirukkal.com/archives/000205.html&quot; Kaakka Kaakka was without the passion and intensity that defines these songs, especially when seen against what was excellent orchestration of these complex, multi-layered tunes.

All said, a full-hearted rendition of three hours plus of quality South Indian film music and all-around entertainment around it, that captured the Mann Vasam and the audience’s imagination.