Archive for November, 2006

Marudhanayagam trailer!!!

This new trailer of Marudhanayagam (with no audio) has emerged on the Internet and MMS circles. It has been released along with a teaser of Virumaandi, and mentions that the movie will release “next year” (2005). It’s done in Hollywood style and makes us sulk and yearn even more about Kamal’s dream project.

More analysis later; for now, I had to get this video online! Thanx to Desi Train and Ananth!

[Video updated: 12 Jun 2006]

Virumaandi: fine effort

Virumaandi was making news even prior to release, its working title, “Sandiyar” not going down well among certain Dalit outfits, and presumably their constituents, for the implication that Haasan’s film was glorifying notions of caste pride and an ethos that Dalit activists held responsible for violence against Dalits in rural Tamil Nadu; the protests and outcry led Haasan to change the title, but some of his critics were not appeased, and calls for a boycott dogged the film even subsequent to release (it’s unclear if these adversely impacted the film’s box office performance, and at least one critic has suggested that they might have helped). Once released, the film garnered good reviews, mainly from liberal and left-leaning sources for its anti-death penalty stance, but in general from cinephiles happy to see a quality film that by any yardstick was one of the more notable films India had produced over the course of the ongoing decade. Amid all the discussion it was easy to forget that underneath the story that Virumaandi became lay a masala film, and one of the most intelligent and hard-hitting ones in recent years.

The film begins with television reporter Angela (Rohini) who is making a documentary on conditions inside a jail, where something truly appears rotten, what with a sleazy cop, mysterious prisoner deaths, and protesting families. In short order the reporter focuses on two of the jail’s more notorious inmates, Kothalla Thevar (Pasupathi) and Virumaandi (Kamal Haasan), the latter sentenced to death, the former to a life term, for their roles in the massacre of twenty four people. Thevar gets to tell his side of the story to the reporter first, the story of two villages with a history of enmity between them, degenerating into violence despite Pasupathi’s best intentions, mainly due to the vainglorious and ultra-violent Virumaandi, who even rapes and kills Annalakshmi (Abhirami), Thevar’s niece — or so we are told. But there are as they say two sides to every picture, and when Angela coaxes Virumaandi to speak, a second, “true” flashback results, and Thevar is revealed in all his villainy, as is the tragedy of Virumaandi, cursed by virtue of owning the only plot of land in the area with access to a ready supply of water, and by film’s end left bereft of his only living relative and his lover. The second flashback culminates in a jail riot in the film’s present-time, and an opportunity for Kothalla Thevar and Virumaandi to settle scores amidst general mayhem, and some of the most superbly shot onscreen violence I have seen in an Indian film in recent times.

Much has been made of the film’s supposed structural similarity to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, but the parallels are overblown. Director Kamal Haasan gives us a nod to the Japanese master’s classic, but no more; and this is as it should be, given the very different philosophical perspectives of the two films. In Rashomon the truth is unknowable, an epistemological problem that is the condition of (our?) existential derangement; in Virumaandi the Janus-like structure — which ultimately privileges the version of reality offered by the film’s hero, to the extent that the initial story told is revealed to be a lie proffered by the villain — dovetails with the film’s avowed aim of arguing against capital punishment. Haasan’s point is not that the truth is unknowable but that there are truths the law cannot begin to fathom, or — at a minimum — that the law is an imperfect instrument for determining the truth. Cinema might well be a better calibrated instrument to that end (better not only than the law but also than other institutions that purport to present truth), and the film’s overture offers a number of visual cues to make the point, as the viewer is led to see the world through the TV cameraman’s lens, the editing room monitor, and even through the gate’s sighthole at the jail where Thevar and Virumaandi are being held. The director’s camera, of course, at one step removed, takes it all in, and as a cinephile it is hard not to be seduced by this vision of cinematic omnipotence, so very in keeping with Haasan’s tremendous self-regard. The man has never been known to be lacking in chutzpah, and in the blustery world of the Sandhyars in rural Madurai district, Haasan has finally found a setting that fits his instincts like a glove.

Virumaandi is not without its flaws: in particular, the director tries to ride two horses, striving to do justice to both Haasan’s anti-capital punishment ideology and to the blood-soaked revenge drama that every masala instinct in the film strains toward. The task is a difficult one, never more so than when Muthulingam’s epic lyrics pace Virumaandi’s jailbreak to words evoking the imagery of a god emerging from his cave to wreak vengeance, a deity who may not be restrained by any law. How does this wanton bloodfest fit into the anti-death penalty schema? None too seamlessly, but it’s so enthralling one ends up not caring in the slightest. For make no mistake Haasan is a gifted director, and holds the viewer spellbound not only by virtue of his thorough knowledge of the conventions of masala film-making but also by his ability to evoke the world of the rural Madurai district. The attention to detail is impressive, as is the casting of virtually all the characters, especially of Pasupathi as Kothalla Thevar, who makes for one of the most memorable villains in years; Abhirami too shines in her spunky portrayal of Annalakshmi, and in her Haasan to his credit gives us that celluloid rarity, a spirited young rural woman. Kamal is himself earthily enthusiastic and authoritative in the title role, although his acting solidity cannot make up for the fact that he is just too old to essay this role, and I found myself wishing for the lesser acting talents (but voracious screen-hog persona) of Vikram — I suspect that change might well have helped this film at the box office, although Virumaandi apparently had a welcome run at the box office by the standards of Haasan’s recent fare. Finally, Ilaiyaraja’s music is superb here, rustic and addictive in several tracks, and melodious in the love songs.

I don’t mean to cavil: for this is a fine directorial effort, and Kamal Haasan is to be commended for his willingness to take risks, and for his uncompromising insistence on taking Tamil cinema to new frontiers (with Kamal himself cast in the role of messiah, of course). All in all, this film means that I eagerly await the man’s next directorial offering: for Virumaandi is one of the best Indian films I have seen in the last two years, and one of the few that takes the intelligence of its viewers for granted. That alone makes Kamal Haasan part of a select group of mainstream filmmakers; may the man continue full steam ahead.

[Cross posted at qalandari.blogspot.com and Naachgaana.com. Editor’s Note: Please welcome Qalandar, a new contributor to this blog!]

Kamal’s essays

Kamal dabbling in various art forms is no news. Here’s an article cum review of his first collection of essays, Thaedi(th) Theerppoam Vaa, published quite a while ago. It covers a variety of topics and is addressed to his fans primarily.

Translated excerpts:

Writing is neither my profession nor vocation. I have not yet tried shouting out loud when my defeats suffocate me. I write about them. Hence, my writings are more of an evaluation of my mistakes… I am not fettered by literary rules and regulations. So ignorance of these rigid rules helps me to express myself freely.

I totally disagree with the axiom “Men err”. I try my best not to err. Every time I make a mistake I punish myself. If possible, I try to atone for my mistakes. I bear my cross willingly…

TV antennae will be built on the graveyard of cinema, the way audio cassettes were born out of the ashes of old gramophone records…I am certainly one among those who will shed copious tears on the epitaph of cinema, which is the 20th century’s most brilliant technical achievement.

[Source: Screen / Jagadish’s Kamal site]

Dasavatharam: credible news?

Lack of news seems to give rise to more rumours. There is talk of Kanal Kannan being replaced by Thyagarajan as the stunt choreographer for Dasavatharam, after workers protested the former’s indecent behaviour. We’ll know if there’s some truth to this atleast when we see the titles of the movie. Another item is about the US shooting getting delayed due to lack of permissions and the resultant loss of Mallika’s dates.

More believable is Shruthi, Kamal’s daughter, singing for the same movie. Check out details and also a more recent photo of hers.

Marudhanayagam: a lighter look

The idea of Marudhanayagam was first publicised 15 long years ago, when Kamal was doing Guna. No one (except him, maybe) knows if his dream project will ever see the light of the day. We fans keep talking various things about it and are excited at any wee bit of news related to it. Leave aside melancholy for once and take a look at this series of photos with funny captions.

[Source: Jagadish’s Kamal site

Dasavatharam news from USA

News from USA on Dasavatharam is hardly trickling. There is talk that Asin will spend a week there while there is speculation that Mallika is also shooting there (whereas the latter was seen in a party in Mumbai 2 days ago). Is Kamal playing the villain so non-obvious?

For now, let’s hear what Asin has to say about Kamal:

“He is 200 per cent involved in whatever he does,” Asin gushes about Kamal. “He always thinks of something new and gives shape to those ideas. It is an honor to work with him,” Asin says, with a child-like enthusiasm.

Short interview, IFFI 2003

Here’s a short interview (through Sify.com) done on the sidelines of IFFI 2003. Highlights:

It is only reading that can make me write. I never learnt acting from any formal institute. ‘Watch and imbibe’ is the mantra and this festival offers enough opportunities.

It’s a corrupt India. It’s time we changed that. And let’s start with home entertainment.

I think there will be more focus on English cinema. The language of communication in India is English now…It’s a very good tool left by our colonial masters and we intend to make use of it.

Sex sells everywhere in the world and is bound to add to a film’s commercial value.

Shruthi, Aksharaa photos

Here are the latest photos of Shruthi (courtesy: newsigo.blogspot.com) and Aksharaa (courtesy: The Hindu), Kamal’s daughters. Both bear striking similarity to their mother, Sarika.

Kamal re-mixed & mobile

Kamal sings for Karthik Raja again

Kamal has had a long and steady relationship with Illaiyaraaja and it continues with his sons, Karthik and Yuvan. He sang in Ullaasam for the former and recently in Pudhupettai for the younger son. Now, Karthik Raja is re-mixing his father’s hits for mobile downloads and Kamal reprises the evergreen classic, Ninaivo oru paravai for the collection. As Illaiyaraaja’s fans eagerly await the same, one of the fans has already played a part in bringing the songs to a new generation!

[Picture courtesy: BehindWoods]

Listen to Kamal!

After publishing photos, news, facts and even video, here comes audio!

Below are two clips broadcast on Oli 96.8 FM of Singapore, obtained through Saravanan. Both are of decent quality and each runs for just about half a minute. Non-Tamil audience, please forgive me again!

In the first piece, Kamal talks of the influence of politics in Tamil movies and how it remains a hurdle in the development.


The second clip has Kamal saying that he still has many more roles to do. He jokes that he considers those who say that there are no more roles for him to do as enemies!


Note: I’m aware of the possible copyright violation here. I did write to Oli for permission and didn’t receive any response. If they raise any objection, these audio clips will be removed.