Memento Redux

Ghajini, starring Surya and Asin and directed by A.R. Murugadoss is a remake of Memento. Yes, that Memento. If you have even a passing familiarity with the film industry in India, you will know right away that a remake of a Hollywood classic means a watered down version that takes the original premise, and somehow contrives to wrap it around a “love-story,” five songs, seventeen fight sequences, and several voice overs that explain crucial plot points to the audience. And so, there is a certain recalibration of expectations that is required to enjoy such remakes.

Viewed from a lens thus recalibrated, Ghajini is an eminently enjoyable movie. Murugadoss borrows the rudimentary plot from Memento – revenge of the amnesiac – and manages to Indianise it without too many holes. The scriptwork and screenplay are tidy, and the dialogues refreshingly down to earth. Even the two heroines don’t seem too out of place in the script and that in itself is an achievement.

Surya and Asin act reasonably well and Nayanthara has a role that is peripheral enough that her performance doesn’t matter too much. Although, I must admit I was a little traumatized when I saw her dance to an item number – every part of her literally shook, and in a startling reminder of Newton’s first law, certain parts kept shaking even after she had stopped dancing.

*Digression* If you are a college professor who came to this page through Google looking for “Nayanthara, shaking, Newton,” feel free to ignore my Creative Commons license and use this example to teach Newton to your students. You can even take them on a field trip to the nearest movie theater playing Ghajini. *End Digression*

Surprisingly enough, the best part of the movie is the flashback – the mandatory sequence to explain how Surya lost his memory and hair. Murugadoss is very comfortable handling the romantic scenes between his lead pair, and the casual humor that pervades the romance between Surya and Asin is a treat.

The songs are atrocious, and the stunt sequences are a little too long, but overall Ghajini is one of the better masala movies out of Tamil this year.

The Fly On The Wall:

Regular readers of this blog (can you laugh a little less loudly, please?) are probably aware that we have sources all over the place. A couple of them were willing to talk to us (off the record of course, what do you think?) for this review.

A conversation between Harris Jayaraj, the music composer and Murugadoss, the director:

“So Harris, what do you think about the movie?”

Harris mumbles, then stops, grins, scratches his hair, picks his nose and mumbles again.

“So Harris, what do you think about the movie?”

Harris mumbles again. “Do you think my hair is long enough?”

“Let us get this straight man – you do a pathetic Rahman imitation. Now answer my frickin’ question.”

“Hmm, it is good. Grunt. Umm. The flashback is funny. But the rest of it is very serious. Need more comedy.”

“You think so? I asked the producer for more money to shoot some funny scenes, but he said no. Now I am worried.”

“Hmm. Umm. Hmm. Umm. I will take care of it with my background music.”

“Huh?”

“Wait and watch.”

Watch we did. And we are glad to report that Harris was very, very successful in his endeavour.

Whenever Surya shows up on screen, a voice screams in the background:

“Bo Zo….. Bo Zo. Booooo…. Zooooo.” The speed of the chant varies according to the need of the scene (naturally). To ensure that the same joke doesn’t get repeated too often the next time Surya shows up, the same voice chants:

“Zo Lo.. Zo Lo…Zo Lo”.

I have to admit, it had me in splits. Great job, dude.

A conversation between Surya and his Dad:

“Dad, I have this role in this new movie and I am supposed to be an amnesiac for good two hours. Any advice?”

“Drink coconut water, don’t smoke, don’t drink, do Yoga and get out of your relationship with Jothika.”

“Dad, I asked for acting tips, not this crap.”

“Oh, ok. Have you seen me act angry in movies?”

“You mean where you keep your body erect, roll your eyes and shake your head robotically back and forth?”

“Yes. Exactly. Do that.”

For once, Surya listened to his dad.

PS: Hemant has a more conventional review up on Instant Kaapi, and I agree with most of what he says.

Deja vu

...It had rained all week in Salem – an incessant drizzle that looked like it would let-up in a few minutes, but had gone on for days. It was still raining when we took a bus that weekend to town to catch the new Illayaraja movie.

As we started walking towards the theater, we noticed a crowd of very wet people walking towards us. The relationship between the wetness of their clothes and the magnitude of the rain was puzzling (I thought it was exponential, Manoj thought it was strange), more so when you consider that the wetness was unevenly distributed across the length of their bodies. We walked over to someone, and politely enquired, “Umm.. how come you wet your pants?”

The guy didn’t get the joke – he told us earnestly that a storm sewer had broken, and that there was knee-deep water on the roads leading to where we were going.

Without hesitation, we took our shoes off, folded up our jeans and started walking. (towards, of course). In a couple of minutes, we were wading through murky water (“It doesn’t look like a storm water sewer, man”), that got higher and higher. People kept squealing, as unknown objects whose specific gravity was just right floated below the surface of the water and kept striking them at inconvenient places.

By the time we reached the theater, shoes in one hand, wallet in the other, our shirts were wet, and it was not from the rain. Around the same time, realization dawned on us: the guy that didn’t get the joke meant ass when he said knee.

I headed straight to the bathroom, which was filled with a few hundred people in various states of undress, pouring water over themselves from a communal bucket. It was quite entertaining, and I would have stayed there for some more time if not for the clanging of the bell that announced the start of the movie.

The movie was horrible; and the audience filled with squirming wet bodies (heh!) hated it. It was the same old overweight-hero-rescues-a-callgirl-who-is-still-a-virgin plot with a twist: the girl was overweight too. I thanked the storm sewer guys for the distraction of wondering if the water would do bad things to me as I squirmed – it saved me from losing my mind completely. In case you want to know, the movie was called Kolangal. All said and done, Kolangal was the worst movie I’ve watched in my life.

Last week, I had been to a movie called Oru Naal Oru Kanavu (A Dream A Day). In hindsight, the parallels were obvious – rainy day, directed by an acclaimed movie maker from Kerala, music by Illayaraja. After the movie, I couldn’t help telling myself, ” You know what, Kolangal wasn’t all that bad.”

Second Rate

Ponniyin Selvan

Ponniyin Selvan is filmmaker Radhamohan’s second movie, coming on the heels of his successful debut venture Azhagiye Theeye. The movie stars Ravi Krishna – the no can emote son of the biggest producer in Tamil, with Gopika, PrakashRaj and Revathy playing supporting roles.

Radhamohan has an affinity for feel-good tales about young men from middle class backgrounds – Azhagiya Theeye was an oddball romance between an aspiring actor and a girl who wants to shake off her arranged marriage. It was simple and honest, funny and touching – the kind of substance over style movie that Bollywood will never make. The movie wasn’t flawless: it emphasised words over visuals, an unfortunate throwback to the Balachander days and the old fashioned direction did nothing to dispel the stage drama feel that parts of the movie had. But, a neat script and some good performances glossed over the shortcomings, and the movie was eminently watchable.

Ponniyin Selvan though, has no such luck. Whatever chances the movie had of success, are ruined by insipid performances.

It’s the story of a disfigured young man living with his widowed mom. He has learnt to live with his disfigurement and the accompanying disadvantages, and seems fairly content with life until someone suggests to him that maybe he should try fixing his face surgically. Turns out that the surgery costs a fortune. End happiness, begin obsession. He works hard to make money, forgetting the simple joys of life in the process. It’s not a bad premise at all, and with better performances and less mush, the movie could have worked.

Ravi Krishna sports the same blank expression throughout the movie, and his monotonal, droning dialogue delivery makes him unbearable. Prakash Raj tries his darndest to act enough for everyone else in the movie, while Revathy, surprisingly, delivers a controlled, effective performance as Ravi Krishna’s mom. Gopika is competent as the goodie -goodie girl that doesn’t care much for looks, and there is another girl that doesn’t care much for the way the hero looks.

The other big drawback is an overdose of pithy one liners in the dialogues. The occasional smart repartee livens up things, but to have every exchange between every character end in some type of witticism is disconcerting. (Also the fact that some of the lines are quite inane.. “It’s ok to live in a complex, but don’t let a complex live in you”). Radhamohan doesn’t seem to get the “cinema is a visual medium” thing still – there are a few people in the movie that seem to exist to just sit on benches and exchange “There was a Sardar once.. ” type of jokes.

Throughout the movie, the struggle between the director that prefers realism and the director that is obliged to make a star out of his producer’s son is evident. There are pointless dances (Ravikrishna can add leaden footed just below wooden faced on his resume), and given the lack of suitable situations for the hero to beat up a few people, there is a ridiculous dream stunt sequence. Surely, that’s a first.

And so, one more filmmaker with potential promises to deceive.

The Constant Gardener

Ever since he acquired a political agenda for himself, John Le Carre’s writing has suffered a bit. Although not as bad as the dreary Single And Single, The Constant Gardener is not one of his better books. Not that it was bad – an off-color Le Carre can run elaborate circles around most people writing today.

The plotting was intricate, and the characterization and prose were as smooth as ever but the thinly veiled preachiness that lay just beneath the surface was too easily discernible. Le Carre had moved away from the nuanced gray’s of his old works and created a white and black world: The bad guys were a little too bad (and white), and the good guys were a little too, well, little.

Ironically enough, The Constant Gardener might just provide Le Carre with something that has eluded his books since The Spy Who Came In From The Cold: A good movie adaptation.

The New York Times has a story about how Fernando Meirelles, director of the City of God was roped in to do the movie.

Right away he started tinkering with Jeffrey Caine’s screenplay. “When John le Carré wrote the story, the story’s seen through a British point of view,” Mr. Meirelles said in an interview in New York in June. “And I think when I read the story, I put myself on the Kenyan side because, really, I come from Brazil.” Among other things, Mr. Meirelles wrote several new African characters into the story, not all of whom survived the cutting process.

What does remain is a remarkable sense of place: a vivid evocation of the Kenyan landscape and cityscape in one of Nairobi’s most down-and-out neighborhoods, through which sewage flows in open, rag-cluttered trenches; and tracking shots of Kibera, Nairobi’s sprawling, tin-roofed shantytown, which are as enthralling as they are disturbing.

PriyaSucky

Priyasaki, starring Madhavan, Sada, Sada’s waist. Directed by K.S.Adhiaman.

Madhavan, Sada engaged in romantic banter. Sada playfully punches Maddy on his (recently)well developed, corpulent chest.

Him: “Hit me anywhere but there.”

Her: “But why?”

Him: “Coz you live in my heart.”

Inane Music. End the most strained courtship ever.

...

Hero, pregnant heroine seek divorce. Judge invokes one year separation requirement. But grants request from boy to be allowed to stay in girl’s house until their baby is delivered.

Him: Kisses her on the waist.

Her: “What are you doing? Take your hands off me”

Him: “I’m not touching you. I’m actually kissing the baby inside you.”

Her: “Oh! Ok.”

’nuff said.

Sunny Side

The prestigious annual Indian National Awards have been announced, and there has been much consternation about how things have hit a new low. If you ask me, I think people are over-reacting a bit.

Ok, so Page 3 was adjudged the best movie of the year. Disappointed? You shouldn’t be. I am quite contented that it was Page 3 and not “Charas – A Joint Effort“. I heard it was the runner up. I have to admit though – I am a little disappointed that my personal favorites won nothing. Not GirlFriend. Not Julie. Not even Murder. However, I heard that there may or may not be another movie of Ms.Sherawat that might be a contender for some awards next year.

Saif Ali Khan, apparently was the best actor this year. Bad choice, you think? Hah. Just wait till next year, when Amitabh wins for Black. This decision will look like a masterstroke.

On a side note, if these transcripts had been released in 2004, Salman would’ve walked away with awards in the comic villian category. Hands down.

The best lyricist is Pa. Vijay for his song in Autograph. For a song that starts off so:

Each flowers (sic!) will tell you…

Naturally. How can you not reward someone that daringly breaks number agreement rules in the first line of a song.

All said and done, it wasn’t all that bad, right? About par for the course.

PS: I heard Vidyasagar (best music director) called Chitra (best playback singer), and asked her “What did we do wrong?” After a long discussion, they concluded that it was just rotten luck.

Bang for the Buck

The crowd hath spake on Shankar’s Anniyan : big hit in Tamil, big hit in Telugu. Hindi Movies with Long Names, Chandramukhi, Anniyan … makes one thinketh that movies might be your Achilles heel, Mr. Surowiecki. In case you are wondering, I cannot figure out for the life of me why I have this incurable urge to write in fake old English.

Setting that aside for a moment, let me talk about a certain scene in the movie. But first, to set things up, here is the premise: Multiple personalities come out of the docile hero, and do multiple things. Since I hate spoilers, I will just say that the multiple things he does may or may not include creating artificial stampedes with buffaloes, frying people alive, eating live monkeys, talking in a hoarse whisper and copulating with snakes. And yes, I must add that it was all done in a grandiose manner, so if there were buffaloes they were pretty big.

One of the personalities that emerges out of the weak kneed lead character is a wannabe cool dude, decked up with all the accoutrements that go into making someone a wannabe cool dude. These include, but are not restricted to the following:

    1. Colored Hair.
    2. Transparent clothing.
    3. Gaudy Sun Glasses.
    4. Terrible Fake Accent.
    5. This Name: Ramp Walk Remo

The girl that refused to fall for the docile hero, falls for the wannabe. Naturally. For how can you not fall when wooed with roses? Rampwalk sends roses to the girl. (Sorry if the sentence construction sounds funny, but that’s his name. Also notice how I took the liberty of assuming Rampwalk is his first name, unless RampWalk is actually two words, in which case he should be called Ramp W Remo…). So where was I?

Yeah, Rampwalk sending roses to the girl. Rose bushes, if you care for detail. An obscene number of them in pots. Along with an audio tape. (a Compact Disc maybe? The director disdains cheap stuff) As the girl stares at the roses, looking suitably surprised, fake accent plays out of the tape and asks girl to smile. She obliges, and behold: amateurish special effects make all the roses bend down in unison. Fake accent explains to a bewildered audience: The roses were ashamed. Duh. Something a good editor would have chopped, and flushed down a toilet. (If you ever do that, make sure you have some Drano handy).

Why is this scene special, you ask? Because I happened to see an interview of Shankar, and he talks about this scene in particular: Apparently, the first time they brought the roses in for the shoot, the roses sucked for whatever reason. And so, Shankar chose to wait four months for the roses to bloom. Four months the producer spent making inflated interest payments. Perfectionism, a la James Cameron.. Or callous disregard for the realities of a reeling industry.

You think Shankar knows what the title of my post means?

Jithan

We watched Jithan (a Tamil movie, for the uninitiated) over the weekend. It’s a remake of Gayab (a Hindi movie, God you are really uninitiated aren’t you?), and if you trace the inspiration tree you’ll end up at H.G. Wells. Kinda like Revenge of the Invisible Nerd.

So anyways, the movie had music by Srikanth Deva, son of the legendary music composer Deva (snicker); and I was inspired to write a detailed, analytical review of the soundtrack. So, here goes.

Excrement.

More reviews of the soundtrack from around the web.