Being a sub is usually a thankless task, a dog’s life actually. No one knows you and you know no one. Unlike reporters, who often bask in the glory of their own stories, subs never get to show off. Once out of office, you are a non-entity. Only your mom knows you.
But if you are a journalist who is into film – this works better if you are a star critic with a big, fat media house – then you get invited to press shows. These are really, really special screenings for the press so that the scribes get to have a go at a movie before everyone else. I think they all get high at the virginal experience.
But Tamil movies – strangely enough – don’t have press shows before movies are open to the public. Sometimes, not always, this is just clever thinking on the part of the studio honchos to pre-empt any negative criticism. Most of the time, it is just darn too inconvenient to have one.
Interlude: Premiers are different from press shows. Premiers are like a costume ball even, where film industry big wigs, journalists and taggers on arrive and flatter each other. I can only speculate because I have never been in one.
There is another variety. This is the preview, which is popular in the west, but I don’t know if it exists here. These guys get to watch the movie or portions of it and crib to the studio executive, who gets the director to tailor the movie according to audience taste. Like a preview viewer (what the heck) can say there is too much blood in this scene to too less. Or this looks too real or this looks fake. Then the executive goes to the director who grumbles and carries grudges around for weeks, but finally does the required cutting and special effects and stuff. Rarely, they even re-shoot. I think Ram Gopal Varma and Priyadarsan should have previews. When you have a lot of spit on your face after the movie is screen, then you bloody well know you made a jackass of everybody.
Coming back to the story: Deprived of press shows, journalists like me get the help of the PROs in theaters. Recently, I reviewed Vallavan for the paper I work in. I booked a ticket but that got cancelled because the show got cancelled.
Oh, wait a minute now. The show was cancelled but it didn’t quite get cancelled. The PRO at Satyam Theatres told me it was cancelled but it wasn’t. The film was screened – true the ‘box’ came late - but my ticket got cancelled. Why, I could never find out. Take a front row ticket or clear off, the guy at the counter told me. He was tense. It was Diwali and the fella was having a tough time.
The movie watching experience itself was great though the movie wasn’t. Nayantara made an appearance - not on screen but in the movie hall - and the audiences went berserk. As the credits rolled, 400 were looking that side and 400 were looking at the exit door where she was standing. Or so I think. I couldn’t really see, though God knows I wanted to. I think I got knocked over. But I wasn't worrying. No, not me. I was thinking: “If somebody had my damn ticket, it better be Nayantara”. It would have been better if she had asked first. But anyways...
I guess that was the high point of the whole affair. I mean at the theatre. After the movie got over, a man in front of me put up his hands up in the classic vote seeking gesture and prayed for mercy. “Kadasiya mudichuttangappaa,” he said, as he was helped out of the theatre.
Oh, I forgot to tell you the story of Muthu, the barber. Muthu, the barber, lives in Medavakkam and gives haircuts for 40 bucks. It’s his own A/C Saloon and he seemed proud of it. He was my movie partner. At least, he was sitting next to me. I first saw him in the counter where he was standing next to me. Try as they might, Satyam can never kill the Q.
Muthu is an Ajith fan. He wanted to see Varalaru, previously called Godfather. Sad for him, no ticket. So after cycling all the way from Medavakkam, he didn’t want to go back. He decided to watch Vallavan. Even worse for him. His life was getting dimmer by the minute.
Somebody had told me, next to Rajni, Ajith has the most loyal fan following in Tamil Nadu. I asked Muthu why he was backing Ajith over Kamal and others. “Kamal irrukkattum sir. Intha pasanga ellam producer, director pasanga. Ajith oruthan than...” At this point, words failed him. I half heard him stifle a cry. He is crying, I thought. Finally, his right thumb extended and swung upwards. “Gun party, sir,” he said, wanting to continue.
(Translation: Ajith was the only guy without previous connections to the industry; somebody who had come up on his own, instead of riding piggyback. Muthu identified with that, I think.)
But then, S.Ve. Shekar appeared on screen and disrupted our most interesting conversation. After that, the lights went off and it was a hellhole for three hours and 10 minutes.
The review of Vallavan is at Desicritics.
P.S: Varalarum sema bladaam. But I haven't seen it yet.