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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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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The Hero Lives On

Nayagan released 25 years back yesterday and Kamal wrote a superb piece on it for The Hindu. I watched the film again after reading his piece. A few intrigues fell in place. For instance, I have had issues with killing one of the Reddys inside a car as was done in Godfather. That aside, there is no denying the films its place. Though not the greatest film made, it certainly is a special film simply because it was a first of its kind in Tamil cinema.

That the not so great production values had to be brought out by Kamal for us to notice is an achievement in itself. As a film and a screenplay, it might be inferior to Thevar Magan, the other twin from Godfather’s womb. But I won’t deny that Thevar Magan had the hindsight of Godfather and Nayagan. Kamal’s performance here could seem more wholesome than in Thevar Magan but that is because this is a biopic centered around a male protagonist.

The eye for detailing was interesting in Nayagan. A young Velu Nayakan screams thiruttu kamnaattiyaLa at a young Selva and co. Velu Nayakan, many years later, is widowed and argues with his daughter in the now cult Brutus-is-an-honorable-man-esque avangaLa nirutha sol dialogue and slips in a seth kamnaati. The widowed Velu Nayakan, still with his kids, names a child during Ganesh Chathurthi at an earlier instance. Later on, an old and forlorn Nayakan is arrested by the police and they go looking for witnesses. The same father tells the police that his son was named by Velu Nayakan. There is consistency and detailing in this. Also, it is curious how Mani took pretty much the same content to Thalapathi and turned it into a vehicle for Rajnikanth. A child wrested away from its parents which does not refuse anything anyone asks, kills a wicked guy and later learns that he has a kid and takes care of the family and the clashes between the police and the grey side seem to suggest Mani did have elements of Velu Nayakan in Surya and Karna in Velu Nayakan to turn a Varadaraja Mudaliar into the Nayakan he created on screen with Vitto Corleone contributing to the plot elements.

What I found interesting was how Velu Nayakan is carried by his calling. He starts out a reluctant Don being forced to kill Inspector Kelkar. It is Kelkar’s son who eventually leads Nayakan to the assistant commisioner’s house (is Nasser ever named in the film?) which carries the plot further leading to Nayakan’s surrender and it is the son that kills him, presenting a case of harping back into being sucked into a chakravyuha which eventually leads to the downfall of the protagonist. The same theme has been handled in different capacities by different films. Lohithadas’s Kireedam was direct and Thevar Magan was subtle (with an extended shot of Kamal’s feet in the muck, before he chases after a culprit after which he decides to stay in Chinnathoovaloor which pretty much seals his fate, so as to suggest that Sakthi (interestingly, both protagonists are nearly namesakes) is being sucked into a vortex). Thevar Magan has more apparent similarities with Mahabharatha and I am guilty of indulging too much in the epic. But such is the nature of the beast. Velu Nayakan, like Lohi’s Sethumadhavan, takes the knife and has to live by it. Never is this more apparent than when Nayakan concedes to his rebel daughter, niruthuna sethuruven ma.

Ilayaraaja’s contribution to this film, as with any film in the 80s, deserves a bow. The rerecording is widely talked about, as are the songs, and deservedly so. The piece of music closest to my heart is not the Thenpaandi Seemaiyile refrain or the theme that plays for Neela, from the brothel (a small cue that grows into a counterpoint that is overwhelming), till Nayakan has lost her. It is when Nayakan is with Kelkar’s son, Ajith. That mera baba mar gaya scene is widely noted for its impact. But Raaja plays a cue in Saarangi, less than a minute long, that is wrenching, engulfing and overpowering, all at once. It plays from 7:07 till 7:53.

However, what clinches the writing in this film is how the crown is passed on, albeit reluctantly. Velu Nayakan does not want it. He does not want his children to take over from him either. His son does, realizing his fears. His daughter does not want her son to be influenced by him. Yet, in the final frame, we see a young Velu with what can be construed as a passing-on-the-baton symbol over his neck, looking over his namesake curiously. The hero lives on.

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Filed under Ilayaraja, Kamal, Mani Ratnam

Raagas and a Digressing Rant

I have an amateur obsession in trying to find the Raagas of film songs. I am no expert and this is a fun hobby as far as I am concerned. This interest has however led to trying to find the roots for the names of Raagas, or rather, their etymologies. Many of them are queer and interesting and it is good fun to discuss a few with examples from films.

A very interesting name is Kharaharapriya. It is supposed to be Lord Rama’s favorite. Ramayanam tells us that Rama killed two Asuras, Khara and Dhooshana, who happened to be cousin brothers of Raavana. This makes him the person who defeated Khara (Khara hara since it rhymes and not Dhooshana hara) and this rAgam being his favorite, becomes Kharaharapriya. Tamil film music has been centered over the last 5 decades around MSV, Ilayaraaja and Rahman. All 3 have had some beautiful compositions in this rAgam. Maharaajan Ulagai AaLuvAn is a song from Karnan, composed by MSV and TK Ramamurthy, which is set to this Raagam. Raaja has been the one composer though, who has handled this Raagam in the most western fashion to surprisingly fabulous returns in Maapilaikku Maman Manasu and Poo Malarndhida (okay I must gush about the flute in the first interlude. *gush*). Rahman has a beautiful Jiyajale/Nenjinile in Kharaharapriya too.

There are a few Raagas that get their names because of a particular region. Kamboji/Kambodhi could have got its name from the Kamboja region beyond Hindu Kush Mountains that Kalidasa mentions in his Raghuvamsam, Gowla could have got its name from Gowda region (Govinda Bhagavathpadar aka Gowdapaadar, Adi Sankara’s Guru, hailing from the same place which is present day Bengal), Kedaram coming from Himalayas (Kedarnath) and so on. But these are essentially Carnatic Raagas. So it is quite possible that the individuals who made these popular here hailed from these respective places. KV Mahadevan has a lovely Kamboji in Arupadai Veedu Konda from Kandan Karunai (just the first stanza here with the composer moving on a different rAgam for each stanza). Rahman has a fine Ennavale that is loosely based on Kedaram. Raaja has a lovely Kedaram too, still not 100%, in Sundari Neeyum.

I would like end with a rant on my favorite rAgam, Kalyani. Like wise men have said, it is a mangaLagaramAna, i.e. an auspicious rAgam giving it its name. It is possibly the most widely used rAgam in Indian film music. But I feel no one has handled it with the depth and versatility that Raaja has. I would like to not bring a song, for there are countless Raaja himself has composed, but background sequences where he has used the rAgam to ethereal effect.

The film is Mannan and the theme between Rajni and Pandari Bai is the Amma EndrazhaikAdha song, which is based on, no prizes for guessing, Kalyani. This theme comes thrice.  First, when Rajni brings Pandari Bai her wheelchair. Here, a shehnai plays a western classical Kalyani and it leads to the original song itself from the interlude, bringing the essence of the mother-son relationship. The second time, he brings it when Kushboo visits Rajni. He begins it with silence and slowly, a veena plays a gorgeous Kalyani and the theme pops up when Kushboo learns it is Rajni who takes care of his mother. The same theme expressing the mother-son love from a third person’s perspective still sounds otherworldly. It goes on for Kushboo and Pandari Bai to converse and stops as Pandari Bai is speaking and leaves the sequence to complete in silence as he had started it. A simple, clichéd scene is beautifully elevated by the background score. The third time, it is very brief, lasting 15 seconds, and is more about Rajni’s disappointment. He does not finish it fully, for the hero feels incomplete too.

However, the piece de resistance is delivered before the climax. All the major characters are here with Kalyani. As Manorama speaks about Rajni, a flute comes in to emphasize the epitome of goodness that the hero is as the violin plays a counterpoint in the background. As Vijayasanthi accuses him, cellos with tremolos start their extension of the rAgam to signify the tension that is building up with the violins taking on the hero’s case, delightfully continuing the counterpoint. As the hero makes his point, an oboe comes in with the violin as Pandari Bai is getting cured. As Pandari Bai is cured, a veena comes in bringing a flurry of notes (a mild violin elevating it) indicating the relief and completeness she experiences over her worthy son and as she calls out Krishna, a shehnai joins in and you stand hopelessly manipulated by the music and are caught by your balls to the edge of your seat and left powerless. I don’t think any background score in Indian cinema can come close to this sequence in signifying the mother-son affection. As Pandari Bai asks for forgiveness, a quick piano traverses through the shehnai, now static on a single swaram to say that her life has been completed and a slow veena with the violin plays with cellos rising in the background to indicate an impending danger (every single, minutest emotion is conveyed and how!) and as the mother falls at her son’s feet and dies, everything stops. There is silence to let the sorrow sink in for a few seconds and he starts the charanam of Amma Endrazhaikadha and the rest of the scene is carried by the song. The lyrics and lead performances play a worthy role here. But the backbone is the music and it makes a clichéd scene a memorable, heartwarming one.

Kalyani just thanked Raaja there for elevating her.

PS: I digress here. I came across this piece by director Suka on Ilayaraaja’s music recently and his final paragraph on a personal memory touched a chord. The song is Azhagiya Kanne. The emotion it carries across is the sentiment between a mother and her children. The year was 2006. My mother had to undergo two surgeries on her abdomen. At one point, the doctor told it was a 50-50 chance of survival. I and my sister visiting her in the ICU is one unforgettable image. She is healthy today. But this song, repeated as the mother passes away, with her children beside her, transports me to my personal space 6 years back and it invariably chokes me. I’m sure I’m not alone here. I am a guy who grew up with Rahman in the 90s, who adores both him and his music. But there is no denying that Raaja, with his music, has been able to intrude the corners of my personal space, as is true with almost all Tamils. In many ways, he has become a part of our lives.

We too owe a thank you to Raaja.

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Filed under Filim, Ilayaraja, Rahman

Mahanadi

Mahanadi watchal happened yesterday, after what must be eons. The depth in screenplay, class in constructing scenes and elevating what is already a powerful scene is what is striking in the screenplays of Kamal in the early 90s, something that is evidently lacking in the last few years. Mahanadi falls in the former category. A lot of things might be pretty evident in the film. This post could hence be clichéd for a few, but to know if you already know what you are going to read, you would still have to read.

Kamal has a fascination for names. This is rather evident from the way he names his films after the protagonists. Anbe Sivam, Manmadan Ambu and Vishwaroopam (becoming redundant, yes) now are proof. In Mahanadi also he obsesses on names in his inimitable way. Right from “Krishna’s” daughter introducing herself in front of his friend’s camera; “My name is Kaveri, like the river Cauvery. My brother is Bharani, mother is Narmada and grandmother is Saraswati Ammal; we see references to rivers which are rather direct (not so in the case of Panjapakesan, who introduces himself as Punjabi; Punjab, the land of 5 rivers. He is never again called by his name, leave alone Punjabi. He is simply referred to as Iyer). We see Suganya as Yamuna and the prostitute and her daughter in Songachi as Ganga and ‘Jala’ja.

The life of the protagonist mirrors a river too by starting out adventurously (some beautifully audacious background score here), unafraid of challenges, foolishly speedy, bouncing over, eventually going down with an almighty thud and mellowing down with twists and turns. This could be a stretch but it’s easy to show the protagonist being kicked and thrashed out rather than visuals that render themselves quite fluidly for such plausibility that it might not be a stretch.

What I find striking is after he has sketched the protagonist’s journey to reflect a river; the film gives the quintessential Indian humanness to rivers through the songs, Cauvery to be precise, calling her a woman with water as an apparel. This quite reminds one of Kalki’s portrait of Cauvery where she is in her journey to the groom’s place (sea), her arms growing multifold in delight as she nears him (a wonderfully imaginative picture of distributaries). References to rivers continue through songs from Tagore in Bengali, followed by Tamil, the former calling out to the villager to set his sails in the river and go about his life for he has wasted his time idling away so far (a precise reflection of the protagonist’s life till now).

We see Kamal’s pet theme of atheism quite apparently coupled with the irony of being asked to read Bharathi to cultivate patience who fuels Krishna’s righteous anger all the more. Kamal the script writer also paints a wonderfully deep canvas to depict human nature in a frankly realistic manner. To elucidate, Sundar, Krishna’s friend, a typically loud mouthed rich guy, mentions inappropriately about Krishna’s wife passing away and realizing that the damage has been done, tries to salvage the moment by calling Bharani a “sweet fellow”. This one sequence packs a lot, from telling us that Krishna’s wife passed away during childbirth to a little peek into the nature of people and also gives the audience a poignant moment, all in a few seconds. The poignancy is more an afterthought here. Similarly, we see Poornam Viswanathan, a character with ulcer who suffers a whole night without food in the jail telling Thalaivasal Vijay that he is to eat only once that day. These sequences don’t judge people as much as reflect what is apparent in a rather subtle way, Kamal style. Beautiful ‘moments’.

Ilayaraaja is in sublime form too with his background score. He conceives a wonderful score for Krishna-Yamuna’s platonic love in the jail which he repeats whenever Krishna and Yamuna are together (this scene being my favorite where a bespectacled Iyer asks Yamuna to find his glasses to make sure the unmarried couple don’t go too far) and a different yet equally lovely score for Krishna’s wife and daughter. However, he doesn’t bring the Krishna-Yamuna score but fits in Krishna’s wife-daughter score to underline that Yamuna has become a part of Krishna’s life when Krishna ironically kisses Yamuna goodbye.

I think Kamal is on his own trip here and other than Raaja, he pretty much completely owns the film. The story on the exterior is like every other sad melodrama but what makes it so beautifully realistic is the handling. I just wish he writes more like this.

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Filed under Bharathi, Filim, Ilayaraja, Kalki, Kamal