Saturday, September 23, 2006

Sivaji's under-rated comedies

While I was away a couple of weeks back, the cable guy unplugged the service. I didn't care. I don't like TV. But that is one reason I have watched so few movies lately. I did, however, manage to catch a couple of classics - that too in Tamil - on VCD. These are being brought out by Modern Cinema, Madurai. The prints are poor but at least the film is now once again available for viewing.
Both the films I saw were by B.R. Bandalu and starred Sivaji Ganeshan. And both Bale Pandya and Sabash Meena are unforgivably underrated. Whenever anyone mentions Sivaji's name, images of dancing eyebrows and cheeks in rapid motion flash through my mind. Sivaji's eyebrows as he sings "Neeyum Nanuma?" or "Enge Nimmathi". Or Sivaji's face as he delivers the lengthy monologue during the courtroom sequence in Parasakthi or Sivaji in chains in Manohara.
But all of the above are poor examples of Sivaji's acting or even acting as such. Today, they are often dismissed as melodramatic perfomances from an actor who pretty much gave Tamil cinema audiences the defenition of the word 'overacting'.
But in casual, seemingly airy comic roles, Sivaji is restrained. His performances at least in some scenes is something approaching sublime.
Bale Pandya was the inspiration for one my all-time favourites, Michael Madana Kamarajan. This is the classic 'aal maarattam' story. Sivaji played three roles while the other great 'overactor' of that time M.R. Radha starred in two. The movie is like a template on which many later comedies would be reworked. So even while seeing it for the first time, you might get the feeling of having seen it all. But the movie, which is a laugh riot, isn't predicatable at all.
Sabash Meena has a wonderfully modern appeal. The dialogue crackles, especially the lines, which would never be funny sans the way in which they are delivered. Chandrababu stars along side Saroja Devi is one among her few more tolerable roles.
Both movies have central characters which are quite naive, and their actions seems to remarkably free of consequences. Freed of fate, they come alive on screen. Even during the low points, you have the feeling of being taken along for a fun ride that can only end well.

And oh, btw, Brian de Palma, who excites love and hate in equal measures among his fanatics-filled audience, is back with The Black Dahlia. Based on a James Ellroy (L.A.Confidential) novel of the same name, the movie has taken quite a hit from the critics. But Slant Magazine thinks differently. Here is a collection of reviews for Palma fans.