Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is Kamal Hassan An Atheist Iyengar?

Those who have read a previous post of mine know, by now, that I am a Kamal fan.

It is quite well know that he is an atheist. For those who have seen Anbey Sivam, which is probably Kamal's best movie, would have noticed this. There is one particular scene where Kamal revisits the place where the accident, which changes his life, takes place. Because he is the only one who survives in the accident, people gather and take 'aarthi'. Kamal rubs away the 'tilak' as soon as it is applied.

But over the last few months, since the launch of Dasavathaaram to be exact, a thought has been recurring in my mind. I have been forced to wonder whether Kamal is in fact an atheist or is he making it up? Or he is an atheist but has not been able to break the Iyengar upbringing? Or maybe I have become too cynical. Now, I do understand that this wondering of mine is of no use to the society and it is unwanted in a world which already has enough complexities. Still, let me make my case.

In Dasavathaaram, one of the roles that Kamal Hassan dons is of Rangarajan Nambi, a staunch Iyengar (Vaishnavite Brahmins), in Chidambaram (near) Tanjore ruled by Kulothunga Chola II, a fanatic Saivite. Kulothunga intends to get rid of Vishnu's idol from the Big Temple. Angered by Rangarajan's resistance, the King gets him tied to Vishnu's idol and drowns him in the Bay of Bengal. A lot of cruelty is committed upon him as he is taken to the sea.

I cannot ascertain the historical veracity of this event. It could have happened or it may be Kamal's figment of imagination, he is one of the story writers. Do watch the movie, I loved it.

Now after watching the movie, it occurred to me that Kamal Hassan, despite his claims of being an atheist, seems to be using a lot of God in his movies. And then I mulled over this thought, it occurred to me that Kamal may actually be still an Iyengar at heart. And consciously or otherwise, he seems to demean Saivites.

Another movie of Kamal Hassan, which is one of my all time favourite comedy flick, is Kadhala Kadhala. Now, an important role in this movie is played by MS Viswanathan, legendary Music Director. In the movie he is a Lord Murugan devotee. The scenes where he dreams about Murugan are funny, not glorifying. In fact, there is a song with Prabhu Deva and Kamal as Lord Murugan. Lord Murugan is a Saivite God. In fact, He is the younger son of Lord Siva himself. Blimey!

No, it doesn't stop there. Pammal K Sambandam, the movie based on which the super sexy but extraordinary flop Kambhakth Ishq was made. This time direct dig on Lord Siva. In the movie, Kamal plays the role of a stunt master and a side actor. In a particular scene, he dons the role of Lord Siva. Do watch it, you may get my point.

Then coming back to Anbey Sivam, again, the negative role played by Nasser is of a staunch Saivite. But then Kamal himself plays the role of a Saivite with a name Nalla Sivam. So it's not the best example.

All these make me seriously doubt Kamal's claims. But after a point, my wondering became introspection. I am an Iyer, Saivite Brahmin. Now, agnostic tending to atheism. I think I have already jumped to the other side of the wall! But then, despite all the disbelief, I still, jokingly or otherwise, say that I am an Iyer. I would be lying if I say that I don't feel proud about being one. Or for that matter, I do feel Hindu, deep down. No, I am not the Right-Wing, types! The point I am trying to make is that despite claiming to be an atheist, I haven't broken away from religious shackles, yet. But then India is a religious country. Irrespective of which religion, we are brought up with a strong grounding in religion.

So, it can be overlooked that Kamal cannot do away with what he has imbibed in his DNA. But then is he actually taking a dig at Shiva and glorifying Vishnu? Could it be Mohan 'Crazy' Rangachari, who was the script and dialogue writer for Kadhala Kadhala and Pammal K Sambandham, behind this portrayal? Oh God, he also wrote the story of Dasavathaaram along with Kamal!

Blimey, Kamal, please, prove me wrong!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Casting, Ouch!

Oceans' Eleven was released about 9 years back. I loved the movie. I envied and idolised George Clooney at the same time. I had instantly fallen in love with him when I had, earlier, watched One Fine Day. He has such an infectious charm and smile, it is hard not to like him.

I read reviews of the movie thereafter. Many of the reviews wondered why Julia Roberts was wasted in the movie. True, it struck me thereafter that she had very little role in the movie.

Later, I discussed this point with Swaran Kumar, an award winning copy writer with whom I worked for a very short period in an ad agency. Swaran was nurturing dreams of directing a movie himself that time. And I really loved the way he explained the importance of casting. He said that any other actor with less star value would have never fitted into the role. Though the role was short with very little to do, no other star could have justified the character who is the object of George Clooney's desire.

Wow, so true!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Raavanan, Epic Failed!

Dear Mani,

You create movies in a unique and inimitable style. The cinematography is always classy and contemporary. Never mind that people always joked that you shot in only in the dark.

In an age of melodramatic dialogues, your characters spoke only in monosylables, yet conveyed the emotion and meaning.

Of course, music in your movies was always, as a Tamilian would say, a plus.

Yesterday, I went to Ravanan. Yes, I was put off by too much of negative publicity through this damn Twitter and blogs. I wanted the dust to settle. I wanted to be fair, not influenced by the negativity.

It was all there, your usual style of cinematography, music and the dialogues. But like that model in Tata Manza ad says, something was missing. It just didn't appeal. It didn't touch my heart. I couldn't feel anything for any character. Not for Vikram, who in Sethu wrenched my heart. Not for Aishwarya. Forget her, I have never liked her as I think she is plastic and fake-y. Maybe a bit for Prithviraj, though I don't like him much. And Priyamani! You know I always thought she won the National Award for the climax rape scene in Paruthiveeran. No, despite the fact that she gets gang-raped in Ravanan, too, didn't get any sympathy. 

Actually, it is not about these actors, it is how you have etched the characters in this movie. Quite shallow!

I know you are an MBA graduate. Am sure you must have heard about the power of feedback. Here are some which you may want to consider. No, I am not an expert, just a consumer of your product.

  1. There are four Ps in Marketing, you must have read. Remember, product comes before packaging. Stylish packaging doesn't help a poor product. Like in chemistry, the elements must react with each other. But in your film, the characters stood out, aloof, like the elements on the extreme right side of periodic table of the chemical elements. This problem is faced when actors attain larger than character profile. Exception to a small extent was Prithviraj.
  2. New Brand Ambassadors: I know you seem to have a liking for certain actors. Aishwarya, as I have already said, looks plastic. Revathy, Manisha Koirala, Shalini, Saranya, Madhubala, Shobana, Bhanupriya...were not as beautiful as the former Miss World but they looked true. Ok, Aishwarya may have a larger visibility and you may 'like' her. You have used her in three movies, now. See even MF Hussain's taste change. There are new beauties in market. Considering your choice, I think Deepika Padukone will fit your taste best. Actually, you don't need big stars to work your magic. Arvind Swamy, Raghuvaran and Madhavan were not big stars when you used them. I don't have a solid data to back-up but my intuition says avoid Junior B and his wife for sometime.
  3. I tend to agree with the Telegraph reviewer who said that you tend to fail when you try to make a pan-India movie. As long as you made Tamil movies you had a pull effect. Now, you try to push hard and movies are failing. Roja and Mumbai are glowing examples.
But I realize you are just a human being and cannot be expected to not fumble. See, now I know that from observing your fascination with the breasts of your leading ladies. Or at least know what men get attracted by. You are just like I am or for that matter any other man. You have in a way immortalized Manisha Koirala. She will always be remembered for her 'bumpy' run. Now, I love all those, but there was this too much unwanted panning to Aishwarya's chest. Do try to avoid those in your next movie. 

At this juncture remember the strategy of consolidation and stick to your strengths.

I was reading this interview of Viswanathan Anand by Chandra Ranganathan of ET NOW. Very nice read. I want you to read the Question No. 3 and Vishy's response. It has profound message for you, for me and for everyone who strives to be successful.

And finally, we know you are a thinker and you resolve to deliver movies with a lot of depth. And I am very sure you wanted Ravanan also to be one such. It's ok, if your dream didn't fructify into a concrete reality. You still are the most talented Director in the country and no one can deny that. I have nothing much more to say.

Wishing you very the best.

Ganesh, the consumer and a loyalist

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is it a DVD Movie or Theater Movie?

Going to theaters to watch a movie was an event. I still remember as a kid the excitement would start much in advance. For a long time, maybe due to innocence or ignorance, no movie was good or bad. I just loved watching movies. Going to theater with parents or friends or relatives was always desired.

There were times when I was willing to pay a premium (black tickets). While on the others, I would be quite satisfied with the front row seats that cost a fraction of the normal tickets.

Over a period of time, due to changes in technology and economics, the business of watching a movie has changed drastically.

I recently watched watched Kalavaani at the newly opened PVR Cinemas at the Ampa SkyWalk Mall in Chennai. While I loved the movie, I thought it wasn't worth watching it in theater.

What does that mean?

Before I articulate, let me clarify that watching a movie in theater is still in many parts of the country and sections of society an event. But then the following developments are important to consider:

  1. Continuous improvements in TV technologies, boom in TV channels and rapid adoption of Cable & Satellite
  2. Ability to record and distribute content: While it was difficult in the VCR and VCP days, it wasn't impossible. But with the arrival of digital age, any content is, today, available to any one. Storage devices (earlier floppy disks to CDs to external hard disks, today) have made distribution easy; Internet just broke all the shackles in distribution.
  3. The growth and improvement in the area of acoustics and home theater.
A combination of the above makes watching content in the comforts of homes a better option than visiting theaters. And thus began the downfall of theaters. Many theaters, at least in Chennai, have closed. Or have evolved, like the Sathyam Theater. The economics of ticket pricing also hasn't helped. And piracy has become rampant.

Blimey, like a very bad film scriptwriter and a very good Soap Opera story writer, I have digressed so much from the subject. But then such a detailed explanation was necessary to come to the central point.

Now back to the difference between theater movie and DVD movie is quite simple. DVD movie is any movie that doesn't require mega infrastructure and technology to enjoy it. For example, Kalavaani was a good movie. But it wasn't spectacular. Neither sound nor visual. It was plain simple. Now, to watch this movie in theater, even if it's just two persons, would be an expensive proposition. Even in Chennai where the highest ticket price is only Rs. (sorry, my keyboard is still not equipped with the new Rupee symbol) 120, it would cost minimum Rs. 250. Online booking charges, parking, let alone the snacks. With large screen TV and a good home theatre watching the movie at home makes more sense. Movies like Kalavaani are DVD movies.

On the other hand, think about Avataar. You can never relish this Magnum Opus in the confines of the four wall of your home. The movie is meant for theaters. That it was 3D was just an additional reason.

Am I thinking too much about it or do people, in general, are selective?

As I have articulated in my previous blogs, would it help if movie producers become practical and consider launching movies in DVD and Internet?

Or do you think theaters will remain as favorite destination to watch movie, forever? Will going to movie remain an occasion, just like going out to eat, going to beach or holidays are?

How do you like to watch a movie?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kalavaani, Life Cycle Reversed

Usually, Indian parents advise children to settle in life before setting up a family. And that is also what youth, educated or otherwise, who nurse ambitions do.

But then not everyone has ambition or aspirations in life. Many prefer to set up a family even before they stand up on their legs. Kalavaani is story of one such youth.

A romantic comedy, the movie is set in rural Tamil Nadu. While the hero's father slogs in Dubai, son invests the resources and time in drinking with his friends and flirting with almost every other women. Then it happens, true love. Our man falls for a girl from the neighbouring village. Unfortunately for him, his nemesis happens to be the brother of the girl.

To make the matters worse, under the influence of alcohol, hero makes a failed attempt to kidnap a girl who also happens to be related to the girl's family. The movie thereafter is the attempts made by the hero to transform. The movie ends with how he manages to elope and get married to the girl. And finally, thinks about settling down in life.

The movie has nothing new to offer except for the fact that it holds your attention and makes you laugh. And I think that is good enough.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tragedies I Avoid!

It was 1982, I was only about 5. I was already a Kamal Hassan fan. I still remember that evening when I watched Moondram Pirai which was later dubbed and release in Hindi as Sadma. I was disturbed. I couldn't digest Kamal's transformation in the climax. After returning home, I kept asking my dad if Kamal would get well. I dreamt about it for the next two days and finally fell sick. I didn't go to school for a week but Kamal went on to win a National Award!

Now after so many years, I still don't have the courage to get myself to watch the climax. In fact, I avoid the movie all together. No, the movie is brilliant. Sridevi is fantastic. But it is Kamal. Interestingly, he has a very subdued and subtle role till the very end. But that one scene in the end, he shows what he is capable of. And I hate that part.

The other movie that I avoid watching is Ek Duuje Ke Liye, a Hindi movie directed by K. Balachander, starring Kamal Haasan, Rati Agnihotri. It was a remake of the Telugu movie Mano Charithra. Ah, there's Kamal again.

Is it the bitter end? Or is it the actors to whom we get 'attached' to?

Is there a tragedy that you don't like to watch?