Monday, June 26, 2006

Pudhupettai: Celebrating the obscene and guttural

Pudhupettai chronicles the life of 'Kokki' Kumar, a superhero who single-handedly murders almost the entire cast of the movie in his ascendancy to political power. This is cinema that celebrates the vulgar and the obscene. Violence is stylised and omnipresent, dialogue is guttural, and the acting, particularly by Dhanush, who plays Kumar, is both spontaneous and over the top.
Selvaraghavan, at the helm of his third film, makes his canvas, bigger, bolder, and darker. Scratch the surface and you might find that the screenplay is still filled with clichés. But these are somehow reassuring in a film that devoid of them would have been reduced to an oddity.
The story begins with Kumar, who after fleeing home and begging in the streets, joins a gang that controls Chennai's drugs, prostitutes and politics. Starting a career selling ganja on the streets, Kumar, in a series of scenes written with Dhanush's scrawny body in mind, soon joins the murderous mayhem his gang is unleashing on the city.
The first half of the movie ends with Kumar wiping off his enemies and firmly establishing himself as the alpha male among gangsters. This sequence is clearly inspired by Godfather's famous climatic baptism sequence in which Michael Carleone (Al Pacino) ruthlessly kills to establish his power. The last shot before the interval of Kumar looking at the city he has conquered with a bitter expression on his face is perhaps the best in the movie.
Prostitutes in Tamil movies are usually pure and untouched when the hero meets them. Thankfully, Sneha's Selvi is no such oddity. And the love between the prostitute and the gangster is not glorified. Sneha stays within limitations and delivers a credible performance.
But for a few minutes after the interval, with the introduction of Sonia Agarwal, the movie comes dangerously close into lapsing into a family drama. For a while it looks like Selvaraghavan, entranced with his own heroine, might lead his movie into disaster.
But with a few strokes, this chapter, the movie's wildest and weakest, is worked into the main theme. Kumar's impulsive marriage seems to deliver that holy shrine of Tamil moviedom a neat little kick in the ass, the thali sentiment. Dhanush is at his best in these scenes. Thanks to him, portrayal of street rowdyism turns refreshing and believable. By most parameters that define traditional actors, Dhanush can only be rated as pathetic. But by being this alive to the role and approaching it with such conviction and voracity, the actor does dispel most doubts likely to arise in audience's mind of his suitability in playing a gangster.
Selvaraghavan has never made movies that are pleasant. Sacrificing logic for the sake of drama, the director has yet again delivered a powerful and emotionally vibrant film.

Naalai - review

This is the season of the gangster on the Tamil screen. Helped by the success of movies like Pattiyal and Pudhupettai, moviemakers have started exploring this genre like never before. Naalai, director Udhayabanu Maheswaran's debut movie, has arrived in theatres purely by the virtue of its genre.
The movie is a genuine crack at showing what makes gangsters tick. It has decent music by Karthik Raja, who shows some of his father's genius for composing and timing the background score. A couple of songs are hummable as well. The cinematography by G. Ramesh is engaging, particularly so in the stunt sequences, which would have looked great in the last decade, but still appear well done. The editing and the art direction really top the technical category. The junkyard set is a prime example for good production design.
But movies have to be well written to be well made. Just forget for a minute the plot that moves in myriad directions and winds up in a messy tangle. What is most bizarre is the flatness of the dialogue. It is almost impossible to write movie-length dialogues without at least one standout line. But Maheswaran, who also wrote this movie, achieves this singular feat with effortless ease. The story is of two childhood friends Justin and Nattu played by Richard (actor Shalini's brother) and Nataraj Subramanian, who at a tender age join a small-time bootlegger Nair (Nasser). As Nair expands his business, Justin and Nattu, who know no fear, become his key henchmen, quickly learning the trade from him. In a series of sequences that move with all the nimbleness of an elephant, the fallout between the gangleader and the henchmen is set up. A murder and a marriage later, Nair can't stand his protégés anymore. A hit is planned, but the heroes survive as heroes always do. Justin ends up in jail and Nattu is crippled. A good deal of the second half is caught in a limbo, but the film is short. So it's got some things going for it, after all.
Nataraj is one of those actors, who do a good deal without seemingly doing anything. He plays the sidekick with ease and in the latter half portrays the cripple as having no any self-pity, which is a big relief. Madhumitha looks cute and appears mostly in sarees. Most of the time, she shuffles between two sets of expressions: the coy downward glance and the impassioned, eye-locking stare. Nasser's usual magic is missing, but he still proves that he is of a different breed, covering the Malayalee accent and gangster lingo with conscious care. The big theme of the movie is the friendship between Justin and Nattu. So it's all the more baffling to see it so underdeveloped. Caught in the need to deliver a racy, hard-hitting movie, the director hardly shows us the events that form the basis of such an ever-lasting relationship. Another big failure is to make the mafia look menacing. None of the characters, including the one played by 'Kathal' Dhandapani scare us, depriving us of the chills during the supposedly thrilling scenes.
Richard is good and would have been even better if he didn't have to keep pulling his gun out. Even gangsters, I am sure, don't show off their guns like some children flaunt their newly bought Diwali thuppaki.
But if gangster movies appeal to you, this is not altogether a bad way to spend an evening.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Are u talkin' to me?

1. I think I have lived 29 years without knowing anything at all about the human species or myself. That's weird. BTW, I have been tagged. I have been asked to put in 6 weird things about me. That was the first.
2. I can't sleep at nights and can't stay awake during the day. That is not so weird, but considering that everybody on the planet, including my neighbours, sleep in the night without effort, I guess you might agree that it is. I feel deprived if I sleep in the night.
3. I love and admire weirdness. But I don't know if the quality - of loving idiosyncrasy and loving eccentric qualities - itself is weird. But I suspect it is.
4. I can't talk to more than one person at a time.
5. I feel murderous early in the morning or when deprived of cigarettes.
6. I think Rajnikanth is a good actor, by which I mean he can act. I have never met anybody who says he is good looking, can act and can beat the shit out of Kamal Hassan when it comes to making pure cinema. Not art house, pretentious bullshit.

I am not tagging anyone. This is a cruel game. :)

(The title is a line made famous by Robert De Niro in a weird role of a Taxi Driver)