Monthly Archives: April 2013

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 😀 – 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” 😀 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