Friday, January 30, 2015

All ye Veerappans

Why on earth do some men use Sandalwood based perfumes?

Come on please.

There is a guy who smells of incense sticks and another who smells of Vicco Turmeric. And every time he passes by I hear the song "Vicco Turmeric nahin cosmetic..."

I am sure men wouldn't want to remind women of their Pooja Rooms or their Gokul sandal talc-using mothers or even the forest brigand Veerappan.

Try musk, there's amber, Try grass, or the ones with aquatic notes, why, even citrus (though that's a risky one in my opinion). If you want to go woody, try patchouli with a woody moss combination.

But save the forests and stop the sandalwood perfumes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bhima - Lone Warrior

Pic courtesy:
Ever since I read a review of this book in The Hindu Literary Supplement, I have been wanting to read it.

Thanks to a friend, I finally got a chance to read this book originally written by the great Malayalam author, Shri M T Vasudevan Nair,with the title Randa Moozham. This is the story of the Mahabharata as told by Bhimasena, the second Pandava brother, fondly called Bhima.

The character of Bhima has always intrigued me, especially after reading a similar book by Chitra Banerjee Diwakarunni, Palace of Illusions. Was he just all brawn? Did he ever feel pain? What was the real person like?

These are the questions that Lone Warrior answers for you. It introduces you to the person that Bhima might have been. It traces the story right from Bhima's childhood to the end of his life. Just like how a warrior's perspective should be, Bhima mostly talks about his valour, the duels and the battles with various people and armies. The description of the Kurukshetra war is told in complete detail, keeping the logic completely intact. We, as readers of the Mahabharata know the story from many perspectives but Shri M T does not talk of things Bhima would not have possibly known.

The most endearing part is when Bhima talks about his feelings and emotions. The hurt he feels at being insulted by the Kauravas as a child, his love for food, his first love, Hidimbi, his feelings towards Draupadi and his lament for his dead sons, especially Ghatotkacha who, for being a tribal woman's son, does not only get his due credit but does not even get a decent funeral. One really feels sorry for Bhima when everyone keeps calling him 'blockhead' right into his adulthood. We, as readers know, he isn't. That fraction of a second when Bhima almost dreams of becoming King after the war is conveyed so beautifully.

For me the most striking part is his relationship with his brother, Yudhishtir, who is generally looked upon as a symbol of righteousness and high morals. Though he is always respectful towards his brother, Bhima is often miffed when Yudhishtir's virtuousness becomes more important than fairness. This makes Bhima think some very sarcastic, often irreverently funny things about Yudhishtir.

Interestingly, his equation with Krishna is also not great,  though there is immense outward respect. He adores Draupadi, though she seems to use him. Even Bhima doesn't know this but the writer secretly conveys it to the reader through his wonderful craft.

We've all grown up listening to the glorification of the Mahabharatha heroes, giving them an almost godly status. But Shri MT turns it all around and portrays everyone as normal human beings but much more strong - emotionally and physically than the average queen and king. The vastraharan scene is explained in detail but the most popular incident of the endless yards of saree is not even hinted at. Similarly the mayasabha event is not made a big deal out of. Even Bhishma's bed of arrows is not mentioned. Many such surprises. This kind of interpretation makes the story-telling so much more stunning.

There is an ample sprinkling of wry humour by the way of Bhima's thoughts and this brings us closer to him.

I had two wishes while I was reading this fantastic book. I wished I knew how to read Malayalam so that I can experience the joy of such brilliant writing, first hand. It would have sounded so poetic. Since that will not be, my second wish was that the translation could have been much better. Though the translator (Gita Krishnankutty) has captured much of the essence, a lot of emotion has been lost in translation, as the cliche goes. Also she has used many terms which seem inappropriate in a book like this. Though there are many instances, the one I am unable to forget is the use of the phrase "red light area", which I am sure wasn't used in Bhima's time or even Shri MT would not have used! The title however, is very apt to the story.

The narration sometimes seems a little too prosaic and monotonous, like the drone of a man talking without a pause in unending baritones. I need to check this with someone who has read the original.

Yet, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the human nature or the lives of celebrated people. Men and women readers will like this book equally. While Palace of Illusions uses every thread of emotion possible to weave its story, Lone Warrior makes use of a perfect blend of fabric to build a sturdy tale.

Thottal Thodarum - Sparking Off a Flying Start

Thottal Thodarum - a film that made its way quietly to the theatres, relying on no fanfare or hullabaloo but just the confidence of the makers.

Just like its title does, the film builds up a good air of mystery around it right from the start. The story line is so tightly packed that putting together a synopsis becomes difficult without giving away at least some of the suspense. So, the central idea of the film is how a small incident can take you to the most unexpected and dangerous corners in life. A thriller weaved into a sweet love story is Thottal Thodarum for you.

To my surprise and to the I am sure to many others as well, the story revolves around the female lead. And this is such a welcome relief amidst all the misogynistic 'hero' glorification happening in our films today. What happens in Thottal Thodaurm is kind of a heartwarming 'team work' between the male lead and the female lead, played by Thaman Kumar and Arundhathi. 

The film is a debut directorial venture of Sankarnarayan, known by his friends and fans as Cable Sankar. 

That he is a lover of quality cinema comes across clearly in the way Cable Sankar has envisioned, written and executed the film. He seems to have put in everything that he had ever wished for in a film. Oodles of sugary-sweet romance, some good music, extra-ordinary events that can take the love story forward and some good comic moments. It normally happens that when you are dreaming of something for a long time, there is a baggage that gives away the start date of the dream. However, nothing of that shows and the film has a young, breezy air about it. There is the internet, there are the apps, there are the gadgets..things that youngsters can easily relate to.

Running to just about 2 hours, the film comes with a taut screenplay with interesting twists and turns. The love story does, at a point make you impatient. Perhaps it was deliberately done to make you root for the new lovers. One is almost goading them to meet and kick start their love story at a point. And this is exactly the point when the story takes a sudden twist.

There are a lot of small touches that the director has put in to show the depth of his involvement. Like the ring tone of the hero's phone that in a way establishes an endearing feeling towards him (who can forget the sweet but naughty music from Geethanjali/Idhayathai Thirudaathey?), the heroine, someone from a middle-class background repeating her normal-looking, realistic costumes in more than one scene, the hero actually clicking open his car lock each and every time he has to open the door (I've only seen people directly getting into their cars, no matter where they are parked). I particularly liked the way the heroine looks up to the hero for moral support at a moment of crisis. This is the first natural thing likely to happen in a relationship built on trust. There are many more such small things. These are touches that speak about the director's efforts. 
Coming to the casting, Thaman Kumar and Arundhathi have given their all to portray their roles to the maximum perfection. Thaman Kumar is sure to get noticed for his confidence, looks and voice. Unusually for Tamil films, be it the way he carries himself or his comfort with both Tamil and English, he looks every inch a city slicker. Tamil films have a distance to cover where girls still need to be shown with a bindi, saree, half-saree. The heroine in fact doesn't have as many lines in English as the hero has. I wonder why? Just because he is from a better financial/educational background? But with due credit to the director, though albeit coy in appearance, the protagonist Madhu is no way demure or weak.

The hero and heroine are not under any pressure to showcase their dancing prowess or rib-crunching action shots. They come across as just normal people who face just one abnormal incident that they deal with cleverness.

Balaji plays the role of the ubiquitous side-kick with a funny streak. He has done his best and has given some really funny lines. But I really wish these side-kicks (everyone starting from Santhanam) stop making know-it-all sweeping statements about women and matters of the heart. The "dei ponnungaley ippidithaan" theories can get your goat after a point. 
Thankfully this film has no place for the ever so common TASMAC (and its aftermath purgatory) scenes. There are in fact no scenes depicting either smoking or drinking. 

Talking about dialogues, they have general been written very well - crisp, contemporary and clear.

The music by P C Sivan is quite catchy. The background score is worth paying attention to. Two songs are particularly nice - Penney-penney and Poo pola-poo pola. The latter in fact, even when I heard it before watching the film, imagined it to be a road-song and I am not disappointed. The way Penney-penney has been filmed is very pleasant, just like the song itself. The famous Bossu Bossu serves as a montage for the very interesting opening credits. Again a first in a long time, there are no 'kuthu songs' in the film. In fact, the director has broken away from the heavily choreographed-100 dancers-exotic locales-weird costumes routine completely. 

The cinematography is noteworthy especially the aerial highway shots. 

The writer of the film has cleverly given his debut film an auspicious title of sorts (Thottal Thodarum, loosely translated to "just get it started and it goes on forever") because the film has certainly paved a way for not just the director but also for Thaman Kumar, Arundhathi, P C Sivan and the entire young crew that is raring to go.

Photos Courtesy:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Loving my Levis

Just like good leather (though I don't use leather), good jeans age well. Jeans of a good quality look better with more use.

Pic courtesy:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Girl (Fan Chan)

I was reading a story by Ruskin Bond - The Meeting Pool. And I remembered this fantastic movie that I watched at least three times many years ago on TV. (Those days when movie channels used to play good films).

Anyone remember this?

Could Nee Thaane En Pon Vasantham have been based on this?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

half entertainer

Palace of Illusions, Angela's Ashes, Eat Pray Love, Bhima, the Lone Warrior...such are the books I have been reading for quite sometime now. So when I received Half Girlfriend as a birthday present, I was rather pleased. Ah! Something different, I thought.

So one not so fine day, feeling down and low, I thought I'd treat myself to something light and easy. I started reading it. I started smiling. I even giggled. Wow! its been ages since I actually giggled, that too while reading a book. So I proceeded bravely with this happy-happy feeling lingering in my head.

As it might be general knowledge by now, Half-girlfriend is the love story of a boy from Bihar. The backdrop in the first half of the book is the prestigious St Stephen's College, Delhi and the second half is Bihar. The narrative goes back and forth tracing the life of the protagonist, Manav Jha. A boy from a small town called Dumraon in Bihar gets into St Stephen's College in Delhi through the Sports quota. Does Manav's first love blossom? Does his life change? Answers to these questions go on to form the rest of the story.

So what are the characters like?

Manav Jha: Its nice to see a protagonist come with his own flaws and weaknesses. There have been many such memorable characters in literature but there is something in them that makes you overlook or justify their weaknesses. But it is not the case here. Also there is no noticeable growth in the character graph at all.  I shudder to imagine that Chetan Bhagat is somehow trying to generalise the behaviour of small town guys through the almost uncouth, unthinking actions of Manav Jha and even his friends. Manav seems to have just one motive all through his life. The Bill Gates situation is just a coincidence that he reluctantly takes part in. At one point after his graduation, his decision rises our expectations of him, but then nothing we expect happens. He just seems to be an overgrown teenager at the end of it all. So when he goes and achieves his 'dream' towards the end of the story, I couldn't help but think, "Oh? Did he have to cross continents and run 6 kilometers in the snow for THIS?".

Riya Somani. A shallow character, who doesn't do anything to the psyche of the reader. If there was an intention to weave a web of enigma around this character, the attempt falls flat I must say. Those diary entries also don't help her in any way.

The Somanis, the mother aka, Maharani, Rohan...all a bunch of stereotypes, something Chetan Bhagat has never freed his novels of.

The first half of the book has this fuzzy feel-good factor to it. I couldn't help but smile at the small funny observations. The Titan Watch ad couple, the biscuits...and many more. But then one starts tiring of it all. I almost felt irritated with the characters, the erratic movement of the story and ultimately with Chetan Bhagat himself. I am sucker for romance and all mushy stuff on earth but sorry mate, not this time.

The storyline looks very promising through the middle of the story but it lets you down terribly. I feel Chetan Bhagat had a rock solid premise on which he could build on something new and inspiring. I, in fact expected a Swades type of inspiration and purpose at a point.The feeling that one comes across is either that of a lazy author or an over-confident one, rushing to complete a Bollywood film script. We already know this book is ready to be made into a film and I actually found myself thinking about the cast. And Mr Bhagat has conveniently cast himself into it too.

It's a known fact that no one reads Chetan Bhagat for the literary value but I couldn't help notice several editorial errors in the book. A serious flaw in the narration I felt was that the editor ought to have decided clearly who the narrator should be. When the book starts off, the Chetan Bhagat is the narrator. Then the story takes on a flashback mode and the protagonist becomes the narrator. Once the flashback mode is over, Chetan Bhagat and Manav Jha take turns to narrate incidents in the first person. This tool can be extremely strenuous for the reader. Chetan Bhagat ought to be a little more considerate towards his readers especially since he thinks people can improve their spoken English by reading his books (I am not saying it, CB says it himself through Riya Somani.). The editors have also been overlooked a gross repetition of many expressions, one of them being "What?" so commonly used by youngsters today in various intonations to convey so many things. But we don't expect it from an established writer. He can't be running out of words? I am sorry but I had to pause reading the book at a point to check if I was reading the original edition or a pirated one because the basic rules of margins and page numbering are broken in many places. Alright, I am nitpicking now.

Yet, I would say that Half Girlfriend is one hell of a wasted opportunity. I will be last person to say a film or a book needs to carry a message. They work great as just pieces of art too. But  Half Girlfriend has neither style nor substance.

Read it if only you are die-hard Chetan Bhagat fan.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Extra Notes


This song came to my mind like a bolt from the blue. It must have been at least 14-15 years since I last heard this song. It was never even featured in any film though it was included in the Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin album. A very romantic Ghazal with lovely Urdu(?) lyrics. 

I'm surprised that after all these years, I somehow remembered every note of this song. Strange! (I wish I remembered my 9-times Table this well ;))

I am sure it happens even now, but in 90s there were often extra songs in a Movie Album. These songs were perhaps composed for the film but never got used. For some reason, I used to look forward to these extra songs. One such song was Dil Ka Aalam in the Aashiqui album. Many years later, this song somehow got made into a music video, perhaps for MTV.  

The cassette companies would tout these extra songs as BONUS (think startbursts on the cassette covers). 

Interestingly, two such songs, one in Tezaab and the other in Dil became so popular that they were added to the films after  their release. 


Amitabh ko bulaao to jaane - Tezaab - can't find the video but someone has posted the lyrics here!

Aaj na Chodunga tujhe - Dil -

Coming back to Aashiqui, I've always felt strange about the song Tu Meri Zindagi Hai in Aashiqui. This beautiful song probably couldn't find a place in the film, yet Mahesh Bhatt must have been so in love with this song that he put it anyway. That explains the silly and illogical picturisation of the song.  

Closer home in the south, there was this song called Kinnerasani Vacchindhamma, which was originally part of the Saagara Sangamam album. It was just a few lines but a very catchy number. But it never got used in the film. However, a few year later, Vamsi, who was K Vishwanath's assistant used a full version of this song for another film of his, Sitara

I understand that most film music composers have independent compositions in their kitty that they take out in case of emergencies. I would love to delve deeper into such trivia sometime. Any inputs on this topic are welcome. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya

I had written this in March 2010 for . Stumbled across it today.
Vinnaithandi Varuvaya Movie

I got to watch a love story after ages and man! what a love story it was! 
Not the sugary DDLJ type and not the tragic Titanic style. This is truly something else! 
I found myself crying in most portions of the movie - not sure if it was for the music, the lyrics, the dialogue or the story itself. I think it is the beautiful amalgamation of all these elements that moved me. 
This is a simple plot about a boy madly in love with this pretty lass who is just not able to make up her mind. When I say "simple" perhaps I am using the wrong word because it is really not that simple. We've only heard stories about love stories having a happy ending or a sad one. But no one really paused to talk about what goes on in the minds of either of the lovers - except perhaps those who have actually experienced it. Quite complicated and very interesting actually - two lovers of such contrasting natures. 
Gautam Vasudev Menon (GVM) seems to have understood the psyche of a woman really, really well - I'm tempted to think if this story is autobiographical. What else can explain so much intensity? Gautam Menon comes across not only as a sensitive writer but a very intelligent film-maker in the way he has played around not only with the script but our minds.I am actually angry with him for making the movie so close to reality but that's the most endearing thing about the movie. Every situation, every character, most dialogues are so true to life. Particularly a few situations like when Karthik (Simbu) is working hard in Goa and is unable to take Jesse's calls. Then those SMSes that they send each other (right from the train scene until the end)...I'm sure everyone has sent or received such messages at some point! Even the swear words that Karthik uses - so natural for a guy as frustrated as him. Most of all, atleast 1 in 10 women can identify with Jesse and her angst. The place when they are in a restaurant and she begs him for them to be just friends because its so much more easier....that is the anxiety of any woman who doesn't want to lose a dear person in her life but at the same time be rid of the guilt of hurting others. I loved the parts when Karthik's friend, Ganesh is worried about the immediate practical problems but all Karthik can think of is his girl, with a sparkle in his eye (making us smile, shake our heads and say, this guy is a goner!!) 
All through the movie, the director grips you by the heart-strings and leads you along. Don't even mention the sudden twist at the was too much for a die hard romantic like me to take! 
GVM has taken a bold step in casting Silambarasan (Simbu) and he has done a great job in turning a rather brash, uncouth often vulgar street kid into this cute, lovable boy-next-door with honest dreams and aspirations. Any girl would fall for such a boy! Can you believe it? I have actually started thinking he is really cute and simple. Finally, he looks and behaves his age. I really wish he packs off his vague scripts and obeys the directions of people like GVM, Maniratnam and the like. But he still needs to work on his diction - though his English is okay, his Tamil is slightly jarring to the ear.Trisha....lucky girl. She has more to do that just look pretty. One solid role only after Nuvvosthey Ne Oddhantana (telugu - Santhosh Subramaniam in Tamil) and Abhiyum Naanum. The southern film industry can take pride in the number of (honestly) woman-centric themes compared to the Hindi film industry. So Trisha, you've made money. Now is the time to make a Name!! :) 
The music of the movie? I have to write a separate article about it!! If we thought Harris Jayaraj and GVM had a great understanding of each other's thoughts, AR Rahman and GVM have too much of it. GVM must be a great communicator and ARR is blessed with a deep insight into the director's mind. The songs and the background score are too good. Thinking back, I think it is the background score that moved me to tears in many parts. And Omana much I cried...and it was out of excitement...the situation, the way it leads to the song, the hope created and most of all the song itself. What a song - there's no limit to how creative our darling ARR can get. And then Aaromale - wow! so apt to trace Karthik's development into a mature filmmaker from a love-lorn boy. 
Gautam Vasudev Menon, a great movie and a big hug to you for making it! Just a little thing, please, we don't want to see the group dancers the next time. You have your fans and we will watch your movies even without those dance(r)s - you don't need them anymore. You still retain the freshness and charm of Minnale but we expect you to dispense with the group dancing ritual. And God knows about your New York fixation! Please globe trot a bit and take us along with you just like you take us with you on your sentimental journeys!