Musings on an Actor

Acting is an art that keeps transforming in the eyes of the connoisseur with time. What is great acting today might seem out of place a few decades from now. So while judging actors, it would be fair in my opinion to take into account the era they acted in. So when I talk about Sivaji Ganesan, an actor who makes me make time to watch him whenever I think of him, I will take into account the era he serviced in. It would be fair to say that the particular era in Tamil films I’m talking about emphasized on actors to hyperdramatize their characters on screen. I shall use this word for Nadigar Thilagam because while he was made to overact terribly in a lot of films from the late 70s onward, his early films, the first 150 odd at least, are predominantly hyperdramatized portrayals co-existing with some incredibly underplayed roles. So if you are wondering what my point is, it’s that it is possible to appreciate what depth and range the actor has been able to convey within the confines of what his era appreciated. What an era appreciated may not last. Taste keeps changing. But the depth and range of the artiste will stay. It does with Nadigar Thilagam (NT) in my opinion.

A couple of examples of his range and depth here. And I mean range not over decades or years or between films or even in the same film. I’m talking of range in a single sequence.

Exhibit 1: Paartha Nyaabagam Illayo, Pudhiya Paravai.

The song starts with NT lighting a cigar and puffing into space. He is an audience awaiting a performance and he is relaxing (absolutely no emotion). His tuxedo, cigar and the high end club he is in, tells us that he is rather affluent. Dancers begin their dance. He awaits. Just his screen presence there conveys that he is waiting. The performer enters (Sowcar) and begins singing. NT just tilts his head up (to have a look at the performer. The tilt suggests that he wants to see who it is). Is she singing to him, kindling an old story? We might never know, and considering his affluence and her “vampish” demeanor, it’s possible. Or she could just be singing to the audience and the guy could just be taking it straight from her to him. So as she sings, he begins to settle into the ambiance, smokes and is soaking the atmosphere in and gauging her. At around 1:10, he isn’t looking at her, but from him looking at the table and puffing smoke into the air, it is evident he is chewing her lines and ruminating on them, a light titillation on his face being evident. As she proceeds into her song, at Neela Nadhi karai Oram and Naan Paadi Vandhen Oru Raagam, he is impressed. He is sucked into her performance now. His eyes don’t waver or blink. His hands take the cigar to his mouth and the wine to his lips. But no, even his eyebrows are on her. She has him in her zone with her performance now. At around 2 minutes as she finishes her stanza, he smiles. A kid-like smile, biting his finger. This is a kid that has seen a toy it is smitten by and wants it. What a terrific transition from wanting to see to wanting. With just the eyes and body language. Restrained all the while. At 2:16, she moves to her right. On cue, NT ever so lightly tilts to his left. His eyes follow her! How did he bring it on screen with such a perfect stitch! Terrific direction and editing by Dada Mirasi by N.M. Shankar respectively? Maybe. Or just a moment made possible by NT? Take you guess. But to be able to see where the shot is cut for another actor and to take over from where the other person left off at ‘take’ with this amount of precision is excellence. At 3:00, as she sings Un manadhai Kel adhu sollum, he is rubbing his fingers on his lips, his eyes not moving from her. He is infatuated. His carnal cravings have apparently been kindled. He tastes his cigar and licks his finger awaiting the next shot from her. He raises a toast from him to her. Finally, he smokes the cigar and it’s clear that he wants her.

No emotion to waiting for something catching the eye to being impressed by it to be drawn by it to being smitten and infatuated by it to utterly being obsessed by it and wanting it. He has all of 30 seconds’ screen time in this 4 minute song (interspersed over the song). He has about 7 shots on him. He is sitting. He has only his hands and face to emote and act. He has no dialogues to tell us his changing emotions. He is constrained literally and restrained artistically. Yet he traverses the above mentioned emotions in one go and translates it to us. In Sir Viv’s parlance, he’s asking us to go fetch it.

Exhibit 2: The treachery of Ettappan. Veerapandiya Kattabomman.

Kattabomman is meditating with his eyes closed.

A Karunanidhi: *rants desperately* on to “Ettappan uLavu koorinAn.”

Kattabomman glances sideways with only a lift of the right eyebrow to convey he’s been brought back to the material world. Shot zooms in. He was praying to the Lord when this unexpected news reached him. He is coming out of his worship with a “Muruga” and goes on contemplatively philosophizing about the yins and the yangs of life. Obviously the meditative calm is wearing off due to Ettappan’s treachery. He contemplates till he speaks about Ettappan after which an understated but disappointed “pch” escapes him at Ettappan’s betrayal. The man is naturally gutted. But he prepares himself for what is to happen and braving the betrayal, he screams instructions to A. Karunanidhi and inspires everyone around. The camera zooms out as though afraid of his wrath (such is the screen presence). The screams of “VetrivEl VeeravEl” even rouses me in my chair as he inspires his Maravar koottam (He himself was a Naicker but Kallar, Maravar and Agamudaiyaar of the Mukkulam, precisely coming in Thevar Magan as NT, Periya Thevar, talks a couple of hundred years on about what happened a century and a half later from Kattabomman’s time as this “KaattumiraaNdi paya koottam took the vElkambs and aruvaas and went VetrivEl VeeravEl as Subas Chandra Bose called”. Essentially the same actor. But what a transition from Kattabomma Naickudu (yes he was of Telugu descent and may have only spoken a Tamil smattered with Telugu but Sivaji’s hyperdramatization of a brave heart was just spot on) to Periya Thevar!) What is more is, he is able to convey a meditative calm which transforms itself to a calm disappointment which leads to disappointed anger which morphs itself to the necessary righteous rage. All genuine. All inside 1 minute. No wonder he blew the jury of the Afro-Asian festival in Cairo away in 1959.

PS: A tribute:

From 1:27 to 1:31 (momentarily saw some Rajnikanth rage there; I mean Rajni is obviously gotten inspired) and from 2:08 to 2:12. That is real arrogance and rage translating for you through a mere film still through the actor’s eyes. He is what I call a பிறவி கலைஞன்.

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Kolaiyum Seivaal Patthini – Andha Naal (1954)

@_tharkuri and I had a chat where we thought it might be a fine idea to write about what we think are Tamil films that must be watched. I made a quick list and I suggested we start with “Andha Naal” mainly because I would like start something on Tamil Films from a historical perspective with Nadigar Thilagam first.

Pic

 

@_tharkuri:

<Before we begin, if you haven’t seen the film and can’t be bothered to (Grrr..), here’s a storyboard. It doesn’t give away the ending, but anyway>

I was talking to this friend this other day and she over ‘romantically’ said, “If I could go back to the 20s just like he does in Midnight in Paris, I really would. That’s what I think is good life”. Of course she’s never lived in the 20s and what she loves is the idea of it from books and ‘movies’.

Looking back at a film from the past, for me, is an activity of looking at what times were like then. That’s what I’m going to do with this piece on the 1954 film (about the 1940s).

Most literature you’ll find about early cinema is about the use of films by the Dravidian movement as a propaganda tool. The 1950s to the 70s is often labeled the Dravidian era, for justifiable reasons of course.

 

What’s to be noted here is that Dravidianism isn’t simply the call to vote for the DMK or the ADMK but a set of belief systems that the Dravidian movement nailed in the Tamil psyche – the superiority of Tamilness, divinity of the Tamil thaai, self-respect (anti-Brahmin sentiments), anti-Hindi sentiments to only name a few.

Several films that did not directly align itself with the movement also reflected Dravidian sentiments is my contention. Andha Naal is especially important because it is neither the mythological nor the Dravidian melodrama, both of which dominated the time. It was historical crime mystery film that a generous Wikipedian even calls “arguably the first film-noir in Tamil cinema”.

Congress

 

Of course, it reflects the time it was made in – half-trouser police man, CID officers with hats, Constables called 402 and 504, Old Tamil text, verbose almost thooya Tamil dialogues are just the beginning. What I would like to draw from the film is perhaps the popular opinion of the time, the accepted behavior for people and a slice of the 1940-50s lives.

Aanmai/ Penmai

Even when social-messages films began to be made (beyond the mythological/ historical stories that started off Tamil cinema), references to history and mythology played a major role in what was intended as ‘reviving the ‘glorious Tamil past’. Sanga Tamil, pandai Tamizhar, Kannagi, Thiruvalluvar kept showing up in films as a way to tell people how to bring back the great Tamil nation it once was.

But going back to a glorious past, brought with it the belief systems of the time gone by. A good part of this is the clear demarcation of aanmai and penmai – addressing women as thaaimaargal, insisting on purity and karpu, the Kannagi/ vasugi-motifs, the madhavi archetype who is almost always a dancer, the evil ‘modern dress clad’ urban woman are the recurring ideas we see in most films of the Dravidian era.

While many of them are explicit, a film like Andha Naal is often argued as one that does not fall into this mold. It is rather interesting how Andha Naal does exactly that. I’ll look at each female character (and their relationship with aanmai) here.

Hema

Raajan’s (Sivaji) sister-in-law Hema: she is introduced as a rude mother, who her own husband rather dislikes and suspects of murder. You’ll notice how throughout the film she is seen as one who fights for her husband’s rights but is seen perpetually in negative light. In fact, Pattabhi (Hema’s husband) goes on to state on record that Hema may have committed the murder, but only in her manic state/ hysteria (she even breaks a glass to prove her hysteria).

Raajan: pombalai aa nee? (which was perhaps the classic like to put a woman in her place in those days, oh wait, may be even now)

Hema: pombalai, aanaal aanmai ullaval

This is especially interesting because this implies two things. One – that a woman is allowed to have aanmai. Two – that it can perhaps be used when the man doesn’t have aanmai. While in the end, she gets nothing of it and is seen as evil anyway, the blatant idea of aanmai still gets discussed.

Raajan: “…akkarai irundhaa? purushana aattu kuttiyaa va aakuradhu?” (implying if a woman has ‘aanmai’ in a family, the man is most likely to become ‘aattukutti’)

Ambujam

Ambujam is the ‘dancer’. While in most Dravidian films, the dancer is the vamp and is all out to destroy the man and by extension the society, Ambujam is treated with more sympathy in this film. However, the implied position of hers as deviant (and troublesome) is not to be missed. The scene that Munk narrates later (the park scene) is interesting for its use of silhouettes as the beginning of placing Raajan’s relationship with Ambujam on the ‘dark side’: a subtle way to display having a mistress as ‘wrong’.

In the scene where Ambujam narrates her defense and explains her who-could-have-done-it story,

Ambujam to CID Sivanandam: “modhalla enna Pillai dhaan aadharichuttu vandhaaru”

CID Sivanandam: “Oh”

Blame me if you will for reading too much into this, but the sense of contempt in that ‘oh’ is palpable.

In the entire film, Raajan is seen smoking only when in contact with Ambujam – he doesn’t smoke any time else, not even while plotting to bomb Chennai. It may be worth noting here that smoking, drinking and engaging a ‘dancer’ went together in several films of this era. Also, here, Ambujam is the only woman who talks of ‘free will’ in the film. She talks repeatedly of ‘enakku ishtam’ while informing Chinnaiah of her wish to move on with Raajan.

Ambujam to Chinnaiah: Enga rendu perukkum oruttharai oruttharukku pidichirukku. Ungalaalai engalai pirikka mudiyaadhu

Chinnaiah: Chumma iru, Pombalai

Usha

The film begins with introducing Usha as a ‘desa bakthai’. She is college educated, thoughtful, pro-justice, well-informed and activist-types. She is also the karpukkarasi, patthini who puts ‘thaai naadu’ ahead of the ‘thaali’ (but will die right after her husband anyway).

Desabakthi

At the backdrop of a crucial time in Indian history, the film is bound to reflect the independence fervor of the time. While that is natural and nothing to croon about, the way the references are made is what makes it interesting. While the entire film has extremely intriguing conversations, I’ll just look at the climax sequence to make my point:

When Usha finds out that Raajan is working with the Japanese to bomb Chennai and is planning to run away once the bomb is dropped, they enter into a verbose dialogue. Some key things that I find intriguing.

While talking of Indian history and the fall of the (glorious) empire, Usha quotes from her knowledge of history, which she claims is ‘balanced’:

“Ibrahim Lodi-kkum avanai saarndha Muslim sagotharargalukkum erpatta porattathin kaaranamaaga Afganistan-ilirundha Babar-ai India-virku azhaitthu, Mughal-aaya saamraajjiyatthai India’vil erpaduttinaargal.”

“Arcot Nawab-ugalukkul erpatta thagaraarai thangalukku saadhagam aakki konda British kaarargal indru varai India pooraavum aandu varugiraargal.”

As proof that any foreign intervention has only caused trouble to the Indian empire, trying to explain to Raajan that the interference of the Japanese would not be very different. Then, she goes on:

“..aandavanin vazhi, anbu vazhi, India-vin anaiyaa vilakku, vedhanthigalaal ettappattu, pinbu Gauthama Buddhanaal thoondappattu, Sangarar, Raamaanujar, Paramahamsar, Vivekanandar, ivargalaal paadhukaakkappattu vandha vilakkum adhu thaan. Indru irundu kidakkum ulagukke udhaya suriyan pol thondrum Gaandhi adigalil kaiyyil kozhundhu vitteriyum jothiyum adhuve”

You see the bias there?

From India, it moves to Tamizhnadu.

“Pandai Tamizhnaattil por kalathilirundhu pura mudhugu kaati odi varum magangalai kolla thunindhaargal Tamizhnaattu veera thaaimaargal”

“Than kanavanukku nerndha avamaanathai thudaikka oru nagaratthaiye erikka thayaaraga irundhaal indha mannil pirandha Kannagi”

After discussing for the sake of Tamizhnaadu, “naan ungalai kolla thayaar”, she says “aanal neengal irandha pin naan adhiga naal uyirodu irukka maatten”

While I insist these sort of messages are part reflective of popular opinion, one must also note that the inherent biases of Director S Balachander and dialogue writer Javer Seetharaman are perhaps what is seen here.

It’s a given that Andha Naal is an entertaining film able to hold audience attention even after half a century since its making. In its simplicity is its sophistication. Having been a commercial failure, leading AVM never again to make a film of this sort, Andha Naal was failed to intrigue the audience of its time. For a casual weekend afternoon film, Andha Naal is a pleasure. Takes you through several layers of meanings, knots of cleverness and seemingly simple story line. Munk would have you watch it for the genius that is Sivaji Ganesan, well, whatever rocks your boat, watch it anyway!

Me (@_Drunkenmunk):

Andha Naal is known as the film without songs. AVM did not bother to enter into such arena much after this film bombed. But this film deserves to be dissected for in my opinion this is one of its kind served by a fantastic actor just 2 years into his career.

First, the times in which it is set in intrigues. Second World War (WW) is where the plot bases its motive around a bombing which happened for real, and it piqued me since I have only read on Emden, the German submarine, bombing Madras in the First WW. This was news to me.

That said, the mystery in the plot seems to be an excuse to stage the film and study the characters, their shades and have some terrific debates. Back then, the mystery itself might have seemed relevant, with the detective cracking it and all that jazz. Today, it seems a straightforward case being cracked in a couple of days (by a simple fingerprint of Usha’s, obtained by Sivanandam). We can see through the mystery today. While that might be attributed to the film’s time, it will be harsh to blame the filmmaker today for having a rather simple mystery (from today’s ‘from-the-top-of-the-perch-retrospective’ standards). Having said that, what happens around this mystery is mighty interesting. The murder is used to study multiple points of view. Again, this might make it easy to dismiss this film today by saying this style was serviced from Rashomon (seen similar dismissals for Virumandi too in the online world. This piece) and that will be sad because it will miss the point.

Andha Naal uses the time and setting in Chennai (film calls it Chennai repeatedly, not Madras) to study multiple points of view (in retrospect, for film was released in 1954 and the pivotal event in the film happens in 1943, a kind of looking back at times gone by then) and Andha Naal also goes its own way to reflect the times through these multiple POVs. Hence, stripping the film off its ‘easy’ mystery and its inspiration from Rashomon, we still have a lot to take away from it.

What stands out even right in the beginning is the continuity in logic. Like when we mention 402 and 504, the Inspector gives instructions to 402, turns around, quickly chats with CID Sivanandam, and turns back to 402 and asks him not to forget the instruction. We are momentarily distracted by the chat that we also come to our senses with that instruction. What about a ‘short’ Chinnayya (who knows if this was a subtext for his character too, he comes across as a guy, not the only one admittedly, with his shades of grey) and where Rajan tells Ambujam in their conversation before his murder (from Hema’s version) “nee andha kuLLa kubEran’idamE pO” is a throwaway that it is Chinnayya. Of course, the plot reveals it to be Chinnayya soon enough. The belated “oh” of Sivanandam is also ours, if we did not notice Rajan’s “kuLLa kubEran” :-) (Remember earlier that Chinnayya did boast to Sivanandam and the inspector that all this wealth is his and so on).

Also, it is important to note that all these are from Hema’s mouth.

Here, I would like to look at every version for what happens in them during their depictions of the murder.

Hema’s version:

She obviously has not seen Ambujam kill Rajan (eventually turns out it was not Ambujam) and yet, we see her version of how-it-might-have-panned-out dialogues with Rajan and Ambujam interacting (a clever camouflage for Hema’s, and as it turns out every other character’s narration of how the murder would have panned out). Hema knows Chinnaya was Ambujam’s patron. We see that in the ‘kuLLa kubEran’ comment. Ambujam asking Rajan if he considers she was a vEsi and Rajan replying “illayA?” are also Hema’s judgments on Ambujam’s character, as is her “kuLLa kubEran” on Chinnayya from Rajan’s mouth. The film passes on so much silently.

Ambujam’s version:

To elaborate further, Ambujam’s version on Chinnayya being the murderer passes on Rajan telling Chinnayya in a sardonic tone, “idhellaam en kitta kEkka unakkE vekkamaa illa?”, and Chinnayya’s pleas bring us to nearly feel sorry for Chinnayya but again, this is how Ambujam holds Chinnayya, a desperate and lonely old man. She has a sarcastic contempt for the old man. We aren’t shown anything on Chinnayya’s family, are we? A man of his age and wealth ought to have a happy family, no?

Chinnayya’s version:

Similarly, Chinnayya passing on comments from Pattabhi about Rajan being a kaliyuga Raman in his version on what would have happened between Pattabhi and Rajan is worth noting. Notice that Rajan cheats on his wife, with Chinnayya’s guilty pleasure, Ambujam. What depth there in that dialog there, mocking him to be a Raman via Pattabhi, while we get to unravel the truth later on with the Chinnayya-Ambujam-Rajan’s triangle! Again, Pattabhi saying “yaarukku vENum indha kaasu? yEn baagatha kudu’na…” in Chinnayya’s version can easily be Chinnayya himself asking his share (Ambujam). Chinnayya’s frustrations and anger at Rajan finds vent with such subtle brilliance in the film. Understated excellence!

Pattabhi’s version:

Again, in Pattabhi’s version, Rajan tells Hema “…akkarai irundhaa? purushana aattu kuttiyaa va aakuradhu?”and “onakku budhi seri illa”. Again, it is Rajan who is a camouflage for Pattabhi here for what Pattabhi, a presumably meek man from his conversation in the shed with Rajan (a breaking point of sorts for Pattabhi who also get poked for being a ‘poNdAtti dAsan’). It is a smart film, not for the mystery, but for what the film does around it.

Also, Ambujam tells Rajan in the park for real, “naan irukkara nelama theriyaama pEsareengaLE” twice before letting him know she is pregnant. Once while they begin to speak that we might miss this out and again, when she finally reveals what is truth. Sivaji is mind blowing here. His வாஞ்சை is entirely genuine till then and full of love. But the moment he learns she is pregnant, his face turns pale which is evident to us even in that half dark evening and his tone suddenly changes to an artificial one.

Sivaji in lou

Sivaji in love

Artificial Sivaji

Sivaji being artificial

Similarly, when talking to Pattabhi on kaliyuga Raman and Bharathan in Chinnayya’s version much before we get to know his adultery, he lets loose a single eyed, PS Veerappa-eque glare at Pattabhi upon hearing the word “Raman” (even in Chinnayya’s imagination, this is plausible, because that is how Chinnaya would expect Rajan, an adulterous husband, to react). Sivaji is servicing Chinnayya’s imagination here. What subtle genius!

Sivaji Pattabhi

Again, in Ambujam’s version, when she is out to get water for Chinnayya in their picnic spot, we must note Rajan’s roving eyes which cast glances at Ambujam (not in the screen) with desire. Again, with Ambujam not being present there but narrating this, Sivaji servicing Ambujam’s imagination of her own complacency in her beauty (which makes her think Rajan looked at her) is all the more striking. She sees Rajan only after the interaction between Chinnayya and Rajan is done (during which time Rajan looks at her).

Sivaji looks

Rajan apparently looking at Ambujam as he chats with Chinnayya (not in frame)

The way Rajan’s character unravels; from a tough brother in a domestic trouble with his sibling (can’t judge who is right here) on to facing the brunt of his hysteric sister-in-law’s rage (we just might feel for him here) down to discovering him cheating on his wife and finally devolving into a traitor; is a delight. It is my pet peeve that most of Sivaji’s genius goes unnoticed because they are incredibly subtle and what stands out is his so called ‘overacting’.

The film also has a number of interesting moments like Ambujam letting Rajan know over a game of chess (with a ‘Ram Studio’ shining in the dark in the background, a cruel joke it looks like on an adulterous husband), “unga Raani close”. It does seem like she is referring to his wife, though Rajan immediately tells her “adhaan yen Raani nee irukkiyE”. But I refuse to take it lying there. The film does have enough ironic moments like this (Rajan telling Chinnayya for instance that he heard of Ambujam through a newspaper called ‘NambAdhE’. You blink and these moments are gone). Right there, and this is Ambujam’s version, we do feel sorry for Chinnayya who pleads to a young turk in Rajan, and Ambujam. So Ambujam offering Chinnayya his wealth back is open to interpretation (coming from Ambujam this to the CID and the inspector in her version).

Ram Studio

‘Ram Studio’ in the background as Rajan cheats on his wife with Ambujam

Usha and Rajan’s debate is a class apart. It has the necessary sparks and some admirable balance that we, like the audience in the film, want both of them to carry on during their respective speeches. While I was beginning to get disappointed at the writing when Veerappan stokes passions, Jaavar Seetharaman and S Balachander were laughing all over me by making Rajan speak and following it up with Usha. Veerappan serves as a brilliant foil here. The balance in the debate is noteworthy because even in modern, acclaimed and rather well made films like ‘Anbe Sivam’, such a balance is absent (communism vs capitalism). Also, while the murder takes place in 1943, Rajan’s apparent anti-national rhetoric in college was several years earlier and at a time when Subhas Chandra Bose had not yet gone to Hitler. Released in 1954, this was the retrospective view the film takes. It doesn’t judge either point of view, for Usha herself feels for an anti-national Rajan (பச்சாதாபம் as she calls it) amid the ஆட்டு மந்தை which first laughed, then applauded (as Rajan predicted) and again laughed at Rajan. Rajan’s ஞானச் செருக்கு later on, is also clearly identifiable with because we have seen the full வீரியம் of his brilliance. Just the fact that he goes anti-national and doesn’t mind killing millions and destroying Tamil Nadu turns us against him. Again, how much of this would a person like SC Bose have envisioned before joining and seeking help from the Axis, is open to guesses.

The film, by placing itself in its times of historical importance and structuring its plot around those events (Rajan aids the real-life bombing in the film) closely, asks itself and us relevant questions through debates and dialogues and also offers a smattering of the culture then (Usha, the legally wedded wife, empathizing with Ambujam than feel indignant) at least in films, the view points and prejudices of every character coming camouflaged expertly (that S Balachander internalized Rashomon so well to an Indian set up is laudable) and hence places itself as a very important film, whose setting, cultural and political debates can be extrapolated even today.

Related links

Five years ago, film historian Randor Guy wrote about Andha Naal: He talks of the performances, techniques and inspirations of the film here.

While writing about Sivaji Ganesan’s filmography, Randor Guy remarks that he was the third choice for the role in the film. In fact, he goes on to say several nice things about the actor. Here.

S Balachander’s nephew writes a long piece on the Director. Well, there is the entire portfolio of SB there. But for a look into SB’s background and the cultural/ political influences he may have brought into his films, this is an interesting account.

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Aboorva Sagodharargal

Aboorva Sagodharargal was re-watched yesterday and as always it led to a discussion where I promised to pen down why I thought this truly is the greatest Tamil film made for the pleasure of mankind. So here goes.

It is interesting to note that this film was the second script after the first one was discarded by Kamal and this itself was majorly toned down for violence because Ilayaraaja and Panchu Arunachalam did not approve of the amount of violence there initially was. Now this in itself seems like an ode to Sam Peckinpah. One wonders how the unadulterated violence would be in the original.  This film is the biggest ode to Tamil cinema itself. I say this because this film was conceived in April 1987 (as detailed in this blog by a Bollywood filmmaker). In a conversation recently on twitter, @dagalti mentioned how Kamal and Rajni following on Sivaji and MGR respectively is a misnomer and went on to make a case that Kamal’s films are replete with hat tips to MGR (Sakalavallavan being a rehash of Periya Idathu Penn, references to Vaathiyar in Kaakkichattai and in the song Singari Sarakku Nalla Sarakku, Kamal and MGR being trained fighters, whereas we see Rajni experiment with roles early on and do a clutch of films with Sivaji too, Justice Gopinath, Naan Vazha Vaippen, Padikkadhavan and later Padayappa, both Rajni and Sivaji being rather limited fighters) and we associate Rajni with MGR today because of certain mannerisms only they can pull off and Kamal with Sivaji because he did experiment with characters after MGR’s demise. I find it eminently worthwhile a thought for we have MGR’s debut film called Sadhi Leelavathi, MGR acting in a 1939 film, Maya Machindra, a 1951 film of his called Marmayogi (Kamal planned but shelved a film of the same name) and Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu being an MGR song. The title Aboorva Sagodharargal itself is rehashed from the 1949 MK Radha starrer which MGR remade in 1971 as Neerum Neruppum. The case is most definitely made.

In that context, I would place Aboorva Sagodharargal as Kamal’s ultimate ode to the legacy of MGR, written immediately before and after MGR’s demise in 1987. The basic story is about the villain(s) killing the heroes’ father, twins separated at birth, as Manorama exclaims “innA da idhu, tentu kottAiyila VaathiyAru padam pAkkura mAri double actu!” (they are suggested to have been born in 1960 when Appu asks for papers later on in the library), the kids growing up to be the respective heroes, Appu telling Kaveri, his mother, that he is an “Ulagam Sutrum Valiban” on top of the globe in the circus, the heroine being the daughter of (one of) the villain(s), Appu twirling his fingers on his nose a la MGR in Nadodi Mannan in Pudhu Mapillaikki, Raja and Janaki singing a duet (Vaazhavaikkum Kadhalukku Jai) around a sationary car; a la Pesuvadhu Kiliya in Panathottam and the heroes eventually extracting revenge on the villain(s). It’s a template; formula driven Tamil masala film with MGR peppered everywhere. But what mastery within this genre that overflows with originality in every frame!

The film brims with irony everywhere. Right from deliciously naming the villains Dharmaraj, Anbarasu, Sathyamoorthy (the lawyer!!) and Nallasivam, Kamal the writer seems to be sardonically peering over every scene. Right from Raja and Janaki dancing, singing and romancing with a dead body on a truck, Raja nearly making love with Janaki as her father is murdered, policemen setting off the burglar alarm (Janakaraj’s bumbling Pink Panther-esque ways eventually nabbing the culprit (can’t help see Kamal the writer as a pale shadow in a poor Dasavatharam where a bumbling Balram Naidu eventually nabs Fletcher) adds to the already brilliance-bursting-at-the-seams film), Raja wanting to remain in the jail but the policemen driving him out of jail (!) and the extraordinary murder of Francis Anbarasu by Appu in KuLLanchavadi, dark irony (black humor?) explodes throughout the film beneath the surface but once you notice it, it is extremely hard to miss out. With Kamal, it is eminently admissible to read into every frame. You often come away feeling rewarded. One such moment that had me gob smacked was when Raja is on the run from the police, he is on the road and there is graffiti on the wall which reads ADMK Janaki (this right after MGR’s death mind you) and points to a direction where Raja runs to. What understated humor, playing on Crazy Mohan’s fad and the heroine’s name! I am justified in saying this film is original awesomeness in every frame here (and you GET this only if you are Tamil).

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The film uses animals to great effect and that is apparent on its surface when we see animals used for killing the antagonists, playfully and also in macabre ways.  Peering beneath the surface also we can see more references. The first frame of the film is a duck. When the villains try to kill Sethupathi and poison Kaveri, Sethupathi tries to save her and while doing so, almost covers her and their child(ren) in a near motherly animal embrace, applicable to every single animal mother in duress, including humans. Dharmaraj as to impress on what would follow, exclaims, “kiLi koovudhu” to refer to Srividhya and “Saadhu meraNdA, veedu koLLAdhu” to refer to Sathyamoorthy instead of the conventional kaadu koLLAdhu. It most definitely makes a case for Kamal the writer subverting habitats intentionally.

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Appu uses animals to kill 3 of the 4 antagonists and while using the tiger to kill Nallasivam, he oddly reminds one of Ayyappan as he sits on top of the tiger which carries him giving an appearance of tiger-man. Just when the irony of an Ayyappan reference while killing a character named Sivam sinks in, Janaki rubs it into Raja asking if he is a “Deiva Piravi” when he is in prison as a tiger-man denying he has ever seen his dad. Well, make your conclusions. As Appu kills Dharmaraj, one can quite easily imagine Kamal murmuring, “Feed him to the lions” :) The attention to details. Flies flying over Nallasivam’s corpse. David’s pant stained with blood above his buttocks as Sethupathy drags him out of the car breaking the glass as he drags David on to the field outside in the initial scene. Muniamma telling Kaveri “un puLLa kolagAran illa” suggesting an anxiety of letting the true mother know that she has not been a bad foster mother. The sequence comes across beautifully.

Appu’s character is the piece de resistance. A midget, suffering from an inferiority complex and ridicule from the world outside who doesn’t mind joking with his mother, “nee pAthu naa yEn vaLarala?” is completely shattered when his mother belittles him in front of the circus owner and the rest of the circus. What is more is she indirectly suggests that she herself would disapprove if Mano married Appu. And how easily the rest of the world treats him with Mano telling him that he and his friends would be the “entertainment” for her Reception night (to be fair to Mano, she only tells Appu “kalyaNam paNNikka pOrOm” while giving him the ring and not a word more), Vincent’s friend Kannan poking fun at Appu in the most obnoxious way and a learned magistrate also sharing a laugh at Appu’s real age. It would all sear the midget. His poignant dialog with his mother after he attempts suicide where he says “nee edhu sonnAlum enakkadhu pathu madangu ma” holds interesting parallels to the kid in Mumbai Xpress telling Manisha Koirala, “nee solradhu dhAne ma naa serious aa eduthuppEn” while attempting suicide (almost tempted to write down anga kozhandha, inga dwarf. Aana prechanai ellAm oNNu dhAn). When Kaveri tells her son it could be her fault that he is a dwarf because she consumed poison, he buys it. She only suggests “naa vesham kuduchadhunAla dhAn unakkippidi AyirukkumO?” and how could quickly he takes it lock stock and barrel, making a case for a scorned midget simply looking for a reason to let lose all the pent up frustrations and anger in a legitimate way than a conventional case of revenge. We however would never know. But the masterstroke is when Kamal makes us buy his anger as ours, that beautiful word called அறசீற்றம், as Kaveri looks on with Appu throwing Dharmaraj to the lions with Ilayaraaja’s adrenaline pumping background score lifting the rage in the scene several notches.

To conclude, I can speak on every scene forever but it just cannot praise this film enough. Mind you, this was a blockbuster across languages. It subverts the genre of masala in the most outrageously brilliant way and still entertains heartily without compromising on any masala element that I will go out on a limb and say that if this does not qualify as Tamil cinema’s ode to the Indian cinema tradition of entertainment, nothing will.

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Filed under Filim, Ilayaraja, Kamal

Assorted thoughts on Navarathri, Naan Petra Selvam and Thillana Mohanambal

What follows are a collection of tweets involving a bunch of conversations over the last 2 weeks between @dagalti and me over Navarathri (which happened on the back of a silly Sivaji vs Nagesh debate on twitter) and my thoughts on Naan Petra Selvam and Thillana Mohanambal (the italicized portions are my thoughts in this post in addition to my tweets). Kindly forgive the Tamil written in English.

Navarathri:

Me:

@dagalti Revisited Navarathri after a long time, possibly only the second time I’m watching the film fully. Thanks to the TL, intend to revisit all Sivaji films I can lay my hands on :) And what a lovely film! The plot is done away with in the premise itself with Nalina’s dad approving of her marriage through serendipity. What follows are the different dimensions of emotions. And though it studies them through Sivaji, the film is driven by Savithri (wow Nadigaiyar Thilagam Thilagam dhaan. andha therukkoothu oNNu pOdhum).

Was reminded of your post (do check it out) on Virumandi. Each episode is about one character making the other talk. How expertly APN fleshes out every story from each character by making them talk through the other character! Arputharaj speaks through Nalina. Nalina speaks through Sollava kadhai sollava after she is overwhelmed by Arputharaj’s affection (very important to service the flow of the plot that it does not happen immediately and Kannadasan sketches the story till then in the song beautifully. “avarukkendrE naan irundhEn avarillai. ingE avaLukkendrE avar irundhum avaLillai” <O–<). The drunkard speaks when he is driven to a corner by Nalina. Lovely! When Nalina meets the murattu Sivaji who is killed, Sivaji’s voice modulation at “en thambi enna seivAn?” is EXACTLY the same as “nee paduchavan aachE?” in Thevar Magan. Again, those who credit Kamal and Bharathan ought to take notes here. Kamal indeed makes a case for Sivaji when he writes “EllAm pazhaya murukku thEn.”

The details. A clutch of mirrors in a room in a brothel. Whattay! Sivaji’s sense of timing with Nagesh when he modulates with only “Saami” to the different demands of Nagesh. Would dare say Sivaji wins the battle of subtlety in an unfortunately subtle way here :-) Savitri’s pleasant surprise before the leper Singaram realizes that the doctor is his beneficiary, indicating she has realized. Wow! Sivaji’s portrayal of the leper. Heard an anecdote that he had a schedule for Muradan Muthu in the morning and injured his leg in a fight. He used that to service the limping leper. idhai ellAm enna nu solradhu? deivAdheenamA illa genius aa? MR Radha’s leper in Ratha Kanneer is the crude, lecherous leper. Sivaji is the rich sophisticated guy who became a leper. And we can SEE that in his body language. Again, indha padathayE muzhukka okkAndhu study paNNalAm’ngrEn.

APN’s screenplays are darn impressive. The film has a premise set up which leads it to every episode and each episode has a premise, body and a mini climax leading to the final climax. And where Anandhan and Nalina meet. yeppA! kaNNAlayE reNdu pErum pEsi koNNuduvAnga. Subtlety max dhAn adhu.

APN’s other screenplays too. Thiruvilayadal for instance. Film has a premise which leads to each viLayAttu. And each sub-episode has a premise, body and its mini-climax. Admired him. ippo madham mAri kanvart to fanboi.

@dagalti:

@_Drunkenmunk exactly!

It is not a movie that ‘happened’ to have 9 rasas-9 Sivajis.
The purpose of the movie is that – how many of the ‘realism-fundamentalists’ even grasp that?

Some of the characters/performances tease you – he is doing to giving fullest expression to the rasa- the actor is not servicing the character here at all. The character is a vehicle for the emotion, which the a super-actor can express. And yet, just when you thought he was in enjoyable gimmick mode- he hands it back to you:

Arputharaj with his shoulder jiggle, ‘nonsense’ and ‘Nalina’ – the way he says that is :D – creates the feeling of curiosity that the character is supposed to. After Savitri exits the scene – right before the sollavA song – he switches on the radio. The line ‘peNNendru boomidhanil piRandhu vittAl…’ is said. He pauses, chews on the line , repeats it ruefully. Film of tears in his eyes, his expression completely changed – he is on to something totally poignant. And at that precise moment he jiggles the shoulders and arms the same way and walks off. The hithero gimmicky gesture suddenly seems weighty.

It is like he makes you feel bad for noticing the gesture more than the man. Sivaji wasn’t caricaturing. He was showing a man with a quirk – but still a real man.

Another one:

The iravinil Attam guy has a long monologue where he tells his story – curious angle for that shot. He is chewing on an apple when talking. What he is narrating is painful. But the emotion of his narration is not. It’s like he is talking about past pains that he is trying to get the better of – that’s what that night is about for him. He is mimicking the lines spoken by his wife – in a tone which is desolate but also beyond the point of caring. Superhuman acting!

Has such a ‘moment’ been created before or since in Tamil cinema. Glad you thought of the VirumAndi re-intro scene. I did too :-)

But you see how VirumANdi is still ‘simple’ – he travels along with the emotion (which is appropriate for the movie/character). But what Sivaji is doing is even more subtle – as what the character demands at that point. Phenomenon!

@dagalti:

@_Drunkenmunk Camera angle for that shot- slightly low and tilted up. So he would have had to crouch a bit and maintain that to be in the center of the frame when delivering all those lines – whilst still slightly swaying like a drunk.

One line where he is quoting his wife. Something on the lines…”indha veettulayE…oru moolaila irundhukkurEn <pause> ‘nga appadinnu sonnA”

An apple chewing frikking pause that communicates his distance from the emotion of what he is saying.

He was clearly having fun packing so much into moments of the film.

Nagesh-aamle…enakku innum pongi pongi varudhu :-)

Me:

@equanimus @dagalti And regarding Navarathri, forgot to mention one point in the first tweet. The leper, when being helped by Nalina, cringes and finally moved by her goodness, exclaims that his faith in truth and humanity have been restored by her. I couldn’t help but see, maybe an unrelated, but plausible parallel to Rashomon where the priest exclaims finally that his faith in humanity has been restored to the woodcutter. While the moment is enough to engulf us there, this is more of a simple melodrama as compared to the mastery of plot merging with the moment there. But I did feel my eyes moisten a wee bit here. Possibly because of the force of Sivaji’s performance. Or I am just a sucker for well made melodrama :-)

Naan Petra Selvam:

Sivaji in Naan Petra Selvam loses his wife who delivers a child some 1.5 hrs into the film. What was a template, dated film till then gets life here with the acting of this artiste. He wants to follow his wife to death but is stopped upon seeing his child being born beside his dead wife. The actor is in his element, but that is not all. Just when we thought the pathos cannot be enacted any better, he slaps us for underestimating him. He leaps to his wife, grabs her hair and abuses her as though he’d abuse a vile villain (you must see the scene for the amount of disrespect he brings in) for leaving him with a responsibility. He brings the coward in the character (gets caught for theft a few mins back in the film) out with such nuance that you hang your head in shame for underestimating the genius. Voila!

The sequence: Do forward to 1:37:35 and watch till 1:39:53:

Post Script: He could do this routinely in every film. There would always be a moment where he would rise above the script. A true hallmark of a great actor. Also, the initial sequences of this film have a simplified version of Thiruvilayadal’s Nakkeerar-Siva Perumaan debate on clarifying Shenbaga Pandiyan’s doubt (Naan Petra Selvam was written by APN, who directed Thiruvilayadal almost a decade later). Just that, we have Sivaji playing both Nakkeerar and Siva Peruman on stage (while he plays only a single role in the film), the filmmakers winking their eyes at us. Enjoyable. We can see Sivaji giving more effort to Nakkeerar (early on in his career, this film coming in 1956, making it rather understandable, that in an oeuvre of an extraordinary artiste,  he always goes for the more challenging roles). It almost reminds us of his Socrates in Raja Rani.

Thillana Mohanambal:

Me:

@dagalti Wanted to get back yesterday itself on Thillana Mohanambal :-) Aside the fact that it’s a great film, it’s possible to see why.

The way the characters are etched to the way the scenes flow is one thing. But the songs are placed as a medium for the hero and heroine to communicate (even though, more importantly, they are supposed to be performing for an audience. Be it Maraindhirundhu (tuned by KVM in Shanmugapriya for Shanmugam or Nalamthaana. I loved that they could indulge with the lead pair forgetting the audiences while the song still remains on stage and is performed primarily for the audience).

Vaithy and Mohana are great characters but Shanmugam gets life only through Sivaji and it is unimaginable to see another actor do what he did, i.e. storm out of the tent kottAi in anger in Nagapattinam, come back, mumble in anger, leave again, come back again and mumble more in anger (it is enjoyable to see that he is still simmering in anger and is not finding the words and is coming back and simmering more. What an actor!), finally after slapping Mohana and realizing through the Maharaja that she is faultless and looking at his hands, first in surprise that it actually hit Mohana and immediately with disgust. Fab! Or that scene where he praises her after the “contest” in ThiruvaiyAru which you speak about. That “goppurAnE sathiyama” :D Or in Nalam thaana where a film of tears form upon hearing the lines “kaN pattdhAl undhan mEniyilE, puN pattadhO adhai nAn arivEn.” Wow! idhai ellaam overacting nu solra pasangala naan paathurukkEn. ennatha solla.

Sikkal’s character itself is a very beautifully etched one. Earlier, he tells Muthuraaku “enakku nalladhu kettadhu ellAm theriyum” outside Mohana’s house upon seeing Singapuram Minor. Later, he realizes what he truly knows through Mary and remarks, “naan nalladhu kettadhu edhuvumE theriyAdha oru keNathu thavaLaiyAvE irundhuttEn”. But he still doesn’t seem to learn and ends up showing his rage on Mohana in the end (even more evident when he signs the agreement not paying heed to his brother’s advice and regrets it later). A beautiful statement on the flawed human nature! Realizing your fault is one thing. But learning from it is a different kettle of fish and it takes an APN and Sivaji to bring it out with such nuance.

Manorama’s Karupaayee/Jil Jil Ramamani/Rosa Rani is also an equally fascinating character. We are given a hint that she could be close to Nagalingam in her first scene itself and when she has a tense monologue before going to save Mohana that she would not let Mohana’s life be spoiled by Nagalingam like hers, it is confirmed. She remarking to Shanmugam that the reason for her name change is because she is being hounded by Nagalingam for saving Mohana tells us that he has cut her off. But finally when she tells Mohana and Shanmugam during their wedding (after blaming Nagalingam and Shanmugam responding that he has got just desserts and is in prison), “avuga seyil lEndhu vandha piragAvudhu en kooda sagajamA irundhA seri thEn”, she suggests that she hasn’t cut him off despite all that he has subjected her to. A sorry situation to land up for an innocent character. APN-Manorama tell us pretty much Jil Jil’s life in those 4 scenes without actually showing what happened for us. That will truly stand out for me from this film. Master director!

Do read @dagalti’s blog on Thillana Mohanambal here.

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Filed under Filim, Nadigar Thilagam

Sivaji and the art of Nine Rasas

How does one define who a true actor is on screen? For an admittedly cinema crazy society, I think I can pass that question to start this post without sounding odd. Yours truly happened to be tagged in a tweet yesterday saying Nagesh was a better actor than Sivaji by a good friend. Being a Sivaji fan, I had to register due disagreements. It soon turned into a conversation with one other friend and I promised to clarify why I thought “Sivaji is the greatest actor Tamil (arguably Indian) screen has seen is an objective truth” and not simply a fanboi-chest-beating-routine we associate with almost every actor under the sun these days.

Coming back to my question, knowledgeable people in cinema have defined acting to fall primarily in 2 categories. One is the Stanislovski School of method acting where the actor immerses in a character and reflects it by living as the character. Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman and Mammooty and Kamal Hassan in India are fine examples of method acting. The other school is studying a character from outside and acting its life spontaneously. There are instances of the 2 schools crossing paths when Laurence Olivier is said to have famously remarked to director John Schlesinger in the sets of Marathon Man, upon seeing a starving Hoffman trying to get into the shoes of a prisoner in a dungeon, “Hasn’t the boy ever heard of acting?” I approve. While the former school is appreciable, the latter seems to get to my undivided admiration. I would categorize Sivaji and Nagesh as falling in the latter school. There are tales of Nagesh studying a madcap outside the Kabali Temple (?) in Mylapore and reflecting it for Dharami’s அங்கலாய்ப்பு in Thiruvilayadal. A truly great actor. But greater than Sivaji? The points that get laid in favor of Nagesh are his subtle genius and the fact that he is far better at comedy and dancing compared to Sivaji. While I am duty bound to point out that a comedian is supposed to be better than others at comedy, I was also asked a rather pertinent question about how Sivaji has overdone the Navarasas while Nagesh can be said to have unquestionably aced most of them without any real effort. While the point about Nagesh being an effortless, versatile actor is true and I must confess to being a big admirer of Nagesh, the question prompted me to declare “I shall twitlong the Navarasas of Sivaji to emphatically prove my point.” That shall be the goal of this post. If you are not turned off yet after realizing I am yet to start my post, congratulations. Read on.

Speaking of Navarasas, I have decided to bravely stay away from Navarathri despite the fact that the film is essentially a study of emotions and the fact that Sivaji brilliantly aces a therukkoothu. A streetplay artiste is taught to shout to reach the audience, for streetplay does not allow a mic, and sing and present the play. Acting unfortunately does not figure high up in his priorities. He will have exaggerated body movements. If we take a look at the koothu in Navarathri, neither Sivaji nor Savithri express their eyes (Savithri’s haiyo at 2 and half minutes is ROFL). So much for being the respective Nadigar and Nadigayar Thilagams. As an aside, it does show that they have superbly understood the character within the character (for this is an episode from the film where the actors play actors).

I shall jog along to bring up the facet of romance/love, an essential rasa to express for any actor worth his salt. I was reminded of an excellent post by @complicateur where he takes up the case of Kannile Iruppadhenna from Ambikapathi where the hero is separated from his love and sings along, for he is a poet by birth, in sorrow. As he sings and starts describing his love, he is reminded of his lover and he becomes happy in her thoughts. In under a couple of minutes, the actor is able to transfer his face from sorrow to happiness and in doing so, reminds us of the fact that he is thinking of his lover. How many actors can reflect such a subtle emotion of actually being in love without spelling it out, I don’t know. So much for having an overacting label too.

While this is more of viraha thaabam than actually romancing the heroine, he has shown us he is capable of making us love even a portrait. Chithiram pesudhadi is a beautiful song. The actor does not see his lover but sings to her portrait he is drawing. The free strokes from Sivaji on her hair, தல முடிய கோதிவிடராப்போல, for the want of a better English word, with a body language that brings all the Sringaram, is a delight, especially where he fondles her lips. Subtle, underplayed and classy.

Moving on, rage, when portrayed by great actors can be rousing. Being an admirer of Godfather I and II, one feels immensely smug that Sivaji, 4 years before Coppola started making those classics, reflected a rather iconic scene of Al Pacino slapping Kay Adams in Uyarndha Manidhan in his own inimitable way. You might be turned off by “owner of seven mills, a hundred staffs and fifty thousand acres of fertile land”. But then, a guy slowly exploding has to burst somewhere and it happens there. Apart from questioning the larger point of their existence, brushing aside Sowcar Janaki with arrogance and finally morphing into a beast, the man lets it rip and makes Sowcar, a competent actor herself, look like a novice. He has also portrayed different aspects of rage with the instance above being domestic rage (?). As Samrat Ashoka in Annaiyin AaNai, you can see a sadistic rage in the eyes.

Sivaji

The man cannot be told to have made people laugh like Nagesh, for Nagesh was a class comedian. However, since I will only stick to Sivaji and his genius, I shall not compare him anywhere with Nagesh but just bring out a funny scene with the credits shared with Balayya. In ThiruviLayAdal, as the wood cutter/seller/Lord Shiva rolled into one, the conversation he has with Balayya after Paattum Naane is such a joy. His look of bewilderment and confusion as Balayya speaks chaste Tamil (supposedly faux for he is the Lord) is LOL. And he gets the Madurai accent topped with pEyureega and movaraiyula. Now who the heck knows how people spoke in Madurai 2000 years back? A classic case of an actor bringing his element of interpretation to a rustic character in a period film. Genius. (Unrelated, but the Kalyani that plays in the background as Balayya feels remorse is soul stirring. Also the scene itself is an understated Meta as Balayya falls at the woodcutter’s feet and is stopped by him. And he is the Lord!)

An actor is also marked by his versatility and needless to say, Sivaji excels. My most favorite portrayal of Sivaji’s is Andha Naal. A subdued, underplayed, villainous role. He had done such brilliant roles very early in his career after Parasakthi, Thirumbi Paar where he is a leach who buys a girl without knowing she is his sister and Andha Naal where he is a traitor, being the earliest. The look of horror on his face comes thrice in the climax. First on seeing the radio system broken, next on seeing Pandari Bai with the gun (with admiration and amazement, another rasa as a matter of fact), trying to speak his way through with opportunism in the eyes as she loses her grip, and finally back to horror due to pain upon being shot. Pure, underplayed class!

When we speak of Sivaji it is hard to not bring Thevar Magan into picture. That scene between Sivaji and Kamal in the rain is celebrated, not without reason. Be it Periya Thevar’s disgust (another of the rasas) at his son’s cowardice, asking Sakthi to do his duty or catching his shirt in anger and Sakthi’s subsequent shock and surprise indicating his soft upbringing of a guy never used to being yelled at, as Thevar follows with “thAyillAdha puLLanu ooti ooti vaLathEnE”, Sivaji is right up there. But in the beginning when Periya Thevar asks his son, “kOvil kumbudathAnnu pEsuneeyaLE, ippa indha oorOda nelama unguLukku purunjudhA?”, Sivaji’s distinct change in tone as he shifts on his couch as he speaks is unmistakable. I presume they only dubbed in the studios in the early 90s. That we often miss such finer nuances covering Sivaji with the mask of overacting is quite sad.

Talk of grace, i.e. KAruNyam, compassion and tragedy, Karnan springs to mind. Anyone one can try the role. But doing what he did requires him. The sardonic look at Krishna, hinting that he might after all know who the old Brahmin is as he gives away his Dharmam, ought to be preserved and shown for grace under tragedy. Talk of bravery and I will illustrate Kandhan Karunai where Sivaji, a star in 1967, played second fiddle to Sivakumar as Veerabahu and his scene with Asokan (Surapadman) is so brilliant that I wonder how we’ve let this pass under the radar. Dialogs are enjoyable, as they are meant to be, but the stance of the man as he ends the scene prophesizing as a giant and he confronts Surapadman is mindblowing genius. To prove I’m not dealing with only hyperboles, he creates his own throne in front of Surapadman and laughs. The next moment, he is seated on the throne and the laugh continues with Sivaji rocking to and fro on the throne to make the laugh seem seamless. Who taught this actor to do that? That is genius.

I am sucker for Kannadasan’s genius so I will leave with one example of Sivaji where he exhibits calmness (Shanta) under duress. Mahakavi Kalidas is the film and KAlathil azhiyAdha is the song, a personal all-time favorite. Sundarambal sings and watch how Sivaji gives many dimensions to calmness in this one song. At around 1 minute, he raises an eyebrow in contemplative calmness to KaLi’s (in the guise of an old woman persuading KaLidasa from going South to an imminent death) sandhanam sEr AgumA? and around 2 and half minutes, the calmness leaks a bit of scorn as though telling the old woman that he knows who she is when she goes deivathin mugam vAdumE to acknowledging calmness at 3 minutes when she touches adhil thAn sarithiram nigazhginradhu and ends with a calmness that admires the old woman’s persistence at aruginil iruppAyadA. Wahwah!

To conclude, I will not hold a candle for Sivaji’s every film for he has done terrible films and overacted terribly in films like Pattakathi Bairavan, Mridanga Chakravarthy and the likes. But to generalize him as a loud, overactor whose performances can be put in a single bucket is a tad harsh. Being subjective, I would say Thiruvilayadal and Veerapandiya Kattabomman are not crude overplays. There is finesse in bombast. The 100 odd classics he has acted in, no other actor can think of doing it with his flair. And there, I rest my case.

PS: Do watch the videos when free. It might help you agree with me.

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April 13, 2013 · 5:20 am

Django Unchained

Django: The sun is shinin’ bright.

Calvin: As it does, on all of us.

There, in one of the many ironic moments in the film, Di Caprio’s character Calvin summarizes, in one sentence, the universality of this earth to all its inhabitants.  And there, it has a distant echo with Kannadasan’s “காற்று நம்மை அடிமை என்று விலகவில்லையே! கடல் நீரும் அடிமை என்று சுடுவதில்லையே! காலம் நம்மை விட்டு விட்டு நடப்பதில்லையே! காதல், பாசம், தாய்மை நம்மை மறப்பதில்லையே!” The ironies are further accentuated as a German Schultz (Christopher Waltz can convincingly play even Rajnikanth. Such is the majesty) is unable to take the German Beethoven’s music in a hostile environment and serves a French Calvin with a French Dumas.

The film bristles with such ironies and subtexts. Like a dentist Dr. Schultz having a golden molar tooth and speaking English better than Americans. Like Django shooting at a white showman. What a metaphor! What intrigued me was the relation between Schultz and Django. Did Tarantino ever subtly hint at a relation more than friendship? Schultz putting his straps on as Django eats in the mountains. Both of them on travel and Django takes a bath in a lake and sees his lost wife smiling at him. I could be stretching and my figment of imagination could well be Django’s.

The film also has scenes which no other director can make and get away with. Where Calvin cracks a skull and makes some pointed observations about how the part of the skull meant for creativity and imagination in a Newton or a Galileo points to servility in people of Django’s ilk, the observation readily agrees itself with Stephen (Samuel Jackson) who fits it to a T. Or the scene with KKK where one of the bird-brained members could well have been a Marshall from a previous scene who spits from under his hood in a sequence of bloody hilarity.

The most iconic moment for me is the one at Calvin’s mansion. The tension builds up. Tarantino promises a kill. There are guns. But things go on a rope walk without tripping. As everything seems sorted out, you see the scene fizzling out. Tarantino throws a googly. Calvin insists a handshake. Schultz refuses and eventually there is the bloodshed, over a refused hand shake, making for a fine study of the human ego.

Over and top of all of this, the film is a Sphagetti Western, entertains and, though not quite Tarantino’s best, is still bloody good.

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Anthony sings the blues

Friends, Indians, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to observe Sachin’s career, not to praise it.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Sachin. The noble nation

Hath told us Sachin was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Sachin answer’d it.

Here, under leave of the nation and the rest–

For we as a nation are full of honourable men and women;

Come I to speak in Sachin’s defence.

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But the nation says he was ambitious;

And the nation is honourable.

He hath brought many victories home to India

Whose ransoms did the BCCI coffers fill:

Did this in Sachin seem ambitious?

When that the public have cried, as in Chepauk in 1999 against Pakistan, Sachin hath wept:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet the nation says he was ambitious;

And the nation is honourable.

You all did see that on the balmy World Cup in England

He could have slunk away for his father, a no mean excuse.

Which he did not and came back for the team: was this ambition?

Yet the nation says he was ambitious;

And, sure, the nation is honourable.

I speak not to disprove what the nation spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then, to celebrate his career?

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart is in the memories, there with Sachin in the memories,

And I must pause till it come back to me.

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