Thursday, January 21, 2010

Soul Search in 24A

An early morning bus trip across Chennai is as much you can observe and see the city in its true colors. Its innocence is prime at this hour, its vastness very visible and its simplicity quite subtle. The bus trip in the wee hours of the morning, for some reason, fills me with a sense of peace.

The bus from Bangalore ends at Koyambedu Bus Stand (CMBT) at around 5 or 5.30 in the morning. Today, I take the 24A route that normally I don't. There are about 20 passengers, and I settle down grumpily in one of the seats, starting at them all without the slightest of self-consciousness. That's us for you. Unlike the London underground, we stare at each other here openly. We don't generally smile at strangers, but still there is a sense of amicability among the public. There are about 38 eyes watching me right now subconsciously, but I don't squirm because am staring at their subconscious too. It's like a bond, the need to mutually agree and acknowledge each other's presence. A touch of care if you need, balls if you don't.

I peep out of my cocoon, and collect my ticket giving an exact fare. For a trip right across the city, it is only Rs. 5. Chennai is not expensive being a metro, I like that.

The bus eases past Arumbakkam and Annanagar. I see about four passengers talking among themselves, and from their tone, it is obvious they are excited. I have a feeling they are the perfect "simpletons from south". To qualify that, they carry reliance CDMA mobiles. The guy holds the mobile in one hand like it is sacred, and types the keys with his other hand, it resembles pecking more than pressing. The moment he tells someone on the other end that they have reached safe and that the buildings are tall, I know my premonition was true. I wonder what place they could be getting down at. There is a pair at the back holding hands and conversing so hush-hush, you would think a baby is somehow being made by talking.

Amaindhakarai came and went. The tip-top guy next to me is a complete professional, what with inserted shirt, a neat black belt and a tag around his neck. The poor soul goes to office at 5.30 in the morning! He looks more like the sales guy than the bank professional. He has a biscuit packet in hand for breakfast, gives a ten-rupee note for ticket. The conductor promptly shakes his bag to show he has lots of coins, says "I don't have change", pockets the note and moves on. It irks me. But what bolts me is the guy gets down at Chetpet without bothering to collect his change of Rs. 7.50. Either he forgot, callously, or the conductor, conveniently.

"Passport Office!", shouts the conductor and the four "simpletons" get out rushing, almost falling over each other. Then I understand - Dubai beckons!! I hope they aren't the clients of those malicious Dubai agents who strand you off the Kerala shore, and it takes you three full days to realize you are still in India, and worse, that you have been cheated. By then, it is too late; All you have is your passport, which you didn't need in the first place to go to Kerala. I think they should add a warning in the passport application to be wary of such agents. Anyway, they get down and eagerly ask directions to the passport office and the conductor patiently guides them - with a twinkle in his eyes and sympathy in his face, that says he knows all about Kerala.

The next stop is Gemini and half the bus downloads. Gemini is like the nerve center of your spinal cord. The nerves run all across to and from here and you could catch a bus even to Timbuktoo. I am sure if they decide to lay a road between Mexico and New Hampshire, it will still run through Gemini. The inconspicuous couple-like pair at the back of the bus gets down, and immediately wonder which way to elope. Well, they have got the perfect start, for there are a thousand ways. The sudden void left behind in Gemini is obvious as the bus rackets down along Royapettah. Usually, there are a bunch of old or sick who get down at the Royapettah General Hospital. Today, there is only one. He takes eternity to get down from the bus and is heavy enough to shake the whole assembly out. After the bus offloads him with a lot of pity and silent good-wishes, it is now going to enter Triplicane.

What strikes me all along this half-hour trip is the life of the city. I wonder what makes the city come alive at such early hours in the morning. Tea shops open as early as 3.30 or 4 AM. People start taking to the roads at around 4.30 five-ish. And the city does not cease until after midnight. Yet, it is peaceful, it is calm and it is beautiful in its own way. Amidst all the noise, and the wave of people, the soul of the city silently carries on through the ages, and the best time to experience its love is this early morning. This bus trip fills me with indifference to the world and tranquility within myself. It makes me realize we are all each but a tiny speck, and even if taken together, our net worries can't be greater than the net happiness. I guess that's why our ecosystem survives.

I feel the same surge of familiarity and homecoming. The last soul to get down from the bus walks along the south-eastern coastal line that you guys see only in a map, crosses the temple and wakes up with its people. It merges into its body as the sun rises above the Marina, and writes a blog.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review Corner - Aayirathil Oruvan

The first thing I should probably say about this movie is that there should have been a subtle warning upfront : "The next 3 hours might come to you as a cultural shock, please wear your seat belt!". We might have seen lot more sensual and violent scenes in English movies, but to kollywood this is new. Atleast to this effect, there should have been a warning so people don't fear stepping out in the intermission to take a leak.

In Aayirathil Oruvan, Selvaraghavan proves once again his obsession with sex and death. And the movie amazes you, for the tamil audience, I am convinced, has never seen anything like this in their cinema screens. The movie stuns you, races your heart, brings you to the edge of the seat, makes the pulse go wild, and then disgusts you, and then makes you squirum, and then lets you down in the end.
I am not going into the story here, that's for you to figure out after you see the movie. But it has inspired me enough to write a review. The camera has done a fantastic job and the scene settings are dramatic. G.V. Prakash is spot on with his music, but I was disappointed to not see the "Maalai Neram" song in the movie. The cast and the dialogue tones are pretty realistic and gives you an aura of things like they are happening right now.

The first half rushes past you before you take note, it is fast. And scary at that (not for the faint-hearted, as they say). There is everything here that has not been done before. Adventure taken to a new level, as the team crosses the seven traps: Glowing starfishes, Red-painted savages, Snakes, Thick forests, Scorching deserts, Quicksands (literally), and the best of all, the maddening village. And in each, it gets bolder.
If the portrayal of cannibals was hair-raising in washing-human-heads and stocking-their-hands, the brutality of the savages was neck-ticking in their fighting spirit and devotion to faith. You want to know where I got the first glimpse of audacity? Reema Sen and Andrea exchange about 10 fiery heated dialogues in english filled with the f-word, c-word and the b-word. For about a full minute, all you can hear is the muted "beeeeep" to cut out the obscenities. But their angry eyes dart everywhere over the body to make you understand what is meant. They haven't faked the accent, they haven't overdone it, and they haven't failed to nail it. Now, this is a first in tamil cinema, and it alone would have given the movie an 'A' rating if not for other vulgarities. I wish there is something like a "AAA+++" rating.
The audience relate to Kaarthi in the scene who stands helpless and blinking wondering what's going on. Everyone would have broken a sweat when they finished shooting that scene. Anyway, those who love similar things in tamil would not go disappointed, as Kaarthi has his share of bad words througout the movie, that makes the b-word sound noble. "Un mela aasadhan" is an entertaining song, one that disguises what is to come after. The maddening scene in the mysterious ruined village where the three of them go out of their minds is downright frightening, sending shivers inside you. That is also a first, and it was painful to see these beautiful beings go berserk. You will either laugh or cry, but definitely squirm.

So much for the first half of the movie. The first half of the second half is also in the same tone, you know something is lurking around the corner waiting to strike.
The choice of cast has taken care of that. Selvaraghavan and his team has researched Tamil literature very well and the one hour where they speak "sanga tamil" was terrific. I lost myself in the screen that one hour as some wonder if what is being spoken is Tamil, because you need to concentrate to understand. I was so intrigued and awestruck by the detail of concetration spent here to perfect the dialogue and its delivery. None other than Parthiban could have probably done justice to that role. He is in his elements, those-days-crazy-guy that we all know. Imagine him playing a descendant king of a clan of cholan dynasty guarding their little secret, isolated from reality, living their ancestors' ways. He dances and dances well. The erotica is made subtle with "veenai" in the background, and attempted to be shown within the acceptable line: but that only makes it all the more darkly sensuos, because he is making out with Reema Sen's shadow, and she is hanging in the air, responding with real emotions. Can it get any more imaginative? Selvaraghavan simply can't resist it when there is a way to twist things. Reema Sen scintillates with her acting that is more than bold, it deserves a hats-off. I am not very fond of the lady, but the way she performed this role takes the cake. She is not great at the lip synch, but you tend to overlook that with your efforts to understand the language. She has done full and more justification to her salary. Kaarthi's role is important, but it comes too late that it is not significant. Andrea is a silent spectator for most of the movie. Oh wait, except for that one-minute freely-verbal part, that is.

And after getting through all this, the climax is a big letdown. The story completely loses track after such a gripping process, and you get lost. The battle between the militia and the old-way army is comical, and it surprised me they could get as far as they got. Kaarthi's battle line commands were rib-tickling. Don't get me wrong, they are supposed to be serious. If this had been inspired by 300, then am sure he didn't get it right. You suddenly feel like there is a college skit going on, and you don't know if you should be serious or if it is meant to be a comedy. Having laid the foundation for a dramatic end, it suffices to say the climax was an unfortunate miscarriage. You don't want to watch a cholan queen dancing to "appadi podu", with that stupid military guy prodding her with his gun. Even if it was supposed to be funny, it is not what I would pay my money for. By the way, it was not funny, it was indignant! The tortures were boring, the rapes were cinematic and the king's end was an outright shame. Infact, it is even dragging towards the end and you don't know if the movie ends when it actually ends.

The movie could have been salvaged by making it the Indiana Jones way, showing it as pure adventure. Instead, they chose to show that history has a way of repeating itself; And it does, for people don't like to see a movie where the evil camp wins. But that is Selvaraghavan for you. If he had been writing this review, he would say: "Aayirathil Oruvan is like engaging in a long stint of heated sex where, unfortunately, you don't climax. Worse, everything goes flak in the end. You are knifed just before the moment, your pain is that of disgust and everything goes black!". That doesn't mean the movie is not worth a watch. Leave out the last 25%, and this is a movie that takes tamil cinema to turfs beyond leaps and bounds. Strictly not for the family man. Take your lady along if she can withstand movies like "Saw" and "Final Destination". Don't take your children along even if they give the ticket free!

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