Friday, August 30, 2013

Thanga Meenkal (2013)

Unlike Vijay's "Deiva Thirumagal", "Thanga Meenkal" doesn't use cheap, manipulative ploys such as casting a cute kid as the lead to make our hearts melt. It sets out to genuinely win our affections but manages to do that only on certain rare occasions. Save for a couple of strong scenes, the film is otherwise a mawkish puppy which keeps coming back to lick your heart. And in case you were wondering, it doesn't pack even half of the emotional punch of "Katradhu Tamizh". 

"Thanga Meenkal" is a rare children's film with something substantial in it for adults. In a film where the Father-Daughter relationship holds the center stage, I was more taken by the depth and subtlety of the one between the father and his own father. The sense of entitlement a son feels towards his parents' property is taken for granted in many Indian families. That a man with an eight year old daughter of his own still continues to live under his father's roof is a topic which keeps getting hushed in the pursuit of upholding our misplaced sense of familial values. 

Kalyani's (played by Ram) inability to find work that pays juxtaposed with his father's hard-earned wealth creates a stark image. As his wife Vadivu notes, "..kaasu illathathu prachana illa; kaasu irukra yedathula kaasu illathathu thaan prachana." "Thanga Meenkal" is a story of a defeated man who married for love at the age of 18 and has never been able to bounce back in life..  of a man who once must have thought the arrival of his daughter would change his fortunes and give him a new purpose. It is, in some ways, a coming of age story of a 30 year old man.

There are many moments where the characters act in ways that is very uncharacteristic of them. Playing a father who wants only to make all of his daughter's wishes come true, however out of his league they may be, actor Ram often over-does what his story expects of him. There are moments where his Kalyani's over-protectiveness comes across as borderline lunacy instead of whatever it is that he, as a director, was aiming for. The entire portion of the film taking place in Kerala is messed up to say the least. Kalyani's journey through the rolling hills in search of a tribal musical instrument to buy his daughter a pug is an attempt to underline his love for his daughter, but it turns the film into a dull, over the top sentimental extravaganza. 

Towards the end, "Thanga Meenkal" turns Shelly Kishore's Vadivu into the mother from those awful Hamam Soap advertisements who worries her daughter wouldn't ever get married if she uses some cheaper, acne-causing soap. There's a huge drama surrounding the possible onset of puberty in her daughter who is only eight years old!

In a school where every teacher is villainized, the film shows us one teacher named Evita (played by Padmapriya) who is good to Chellamma. But her role is cut-short to a bare minimum. In the scene where Kalyani visits Evita's house late in the night because his daughter would want to speak to her, we are offered no clues as to why the teacher appears distressed. Ultimately, at its core, "Thanga Meenkal" believes a good teacher can unlock hidden talents and set children on the path of success. It tries to distance itself from comparisons to "Taare Zameen Par" by never mentioning the words 'Dyslexia' and 'Attention Deficit Disorder', while clearly suggesting that what Chellamma needs is more than just a good teacher. While he resists the temptation to chastise private schools for their apathy for most part of the film, Ram eventually gives in at the end.

With her crooked set of teeth, Sadhana is like a female Darsheel Safary, but without the acting chops. I don't want to be too hard on the kid and wish to divert the blame to the director for her performance. As much as I wanted to like "Thanga Meenkal", I am disappointed by how it doesn't strike gold while fishing for metaphors in a pond. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Aadhalal Kaadhal Seiveer (2013)

Aadhalal Kaadhal Seiveer is a superb cautionary tale of sorts with characters so real they could be your friends. It is a keenly observed work which truly captures what it means to fall in love at twenty and what could happen when one is not careful. The characters are extremely relatable and the situations they find themselves in.. scarily genuine. 

For the first time in forever, the romance doesn't feel larger than life. Karthik and Shwetha go to a college where almost everyone appears to be in some stage of a relationship. From one-side love to falling for a close friend to relationships breaking down in a matter of days.. these kids have seen it all. The fear of rejection which keeps them from expressing their deepest desires, the unforgettable sensation of getting tongue-tied around a crush, being disappointed with oneself for letting another day go by without making anything happen.. and the ultimate relief when it all miraculously works out.. Aadhalal gets it right on all counts. 

I swear I did not even know who the male lead was until a few minutes into the movie, when I had to figure it out myself. I look at Karthik and Shwetha and see reflection of people I know. Falling in love is the easy part; making a relationship work requires all the effort. Soon enough, the drug named love consumes her and she starts hiding the truth about her love life from her family.. something which she promises her Father should would never. Suseendran wisely manufactures most of the tension from this very palpable fear of getting caught. One thing leads to another and the lovers find themselves expecting a child.   

This is quite possibly the definitive story about the perils of young love in Indian middle-class context. There's this unshakable feeling that these are real people facing real problems. Once the families gets involved, the film takes an altogether different turn. The disparity does not arise out of difference in monetary status. Both the families are squarely middle-class with a typical white collar breadwinner. They are all good people who think they have their child's best interest at heart. That might be true, for all we know, but as viewers, we cannot but root for the lovers to get together. The need to live up to society's unrealistic expectations from a perfect family, the oorla-thala-nimurnthu-nadaka-mudiyathu feeling and the fear of becoming outcast makes it harder for them to accept their children's choices. 

You can tell a lot about a person based on how they react to this film. Without going on yet another feminist rant, I will just say what I registered from the reaction of audience around me: the sexually active girl was shamed while the equally "guilty" boy was absolved.  Understanding this prevailing attitude, Suseendran tips the moral bias slightly in favor of the girl. Besides that, he lets these dynamics play out and leaves the rest upon us to draw our own judgments.  For most part of the runtime, the film walks a tightrope, carefully balancing out the blame between the lovers. It is in the final five minutes that it blindsides us with a totally unexpected emotional blow. The ripples of people's short-sighted actions continue to affect so many lives, even destroying some, and the film delivers a powerful statement on that. Although that might not have been the film's primary intention, it still becomes very thought provoking on secondary issues like 'abortion'. 

Besides being a very realistic take on young love with some really compelling drama, Suseendran's Aadhalal Kaadhal Seiveer is an important film. Sure, the final minutes could have used more subtlety and less sentimentality, but the impact is undeniable.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ainthu Ainthu Ainthu (2013)

Sasi's Ainthu Ainthu Ainthu starts off as an awkward psychological thriller before becoming a full-blown balls to the walls action masala with preposterously awesome expositions. It features a protagonist who suffers serious brain damage in a car accident and is no longer able to live normally. A part of him is convinced that he lost the love of his life in the accident -- a girl who his own brother swears never even existed. Along with this unreliable hero with questionable memories, we plunge into this seemingly normal world where things are about to real crazy. 

The film tries to evoke the same feeling in us that A.R.Murugadoss' Ghajini so deftly managed to. It slowly and very obviously leads the romance squarely into the unrequited territory before showering a good dose of fatality on the lovers. The love story is very unimaginative and I didn't root for them the way I did for, say, Manohar and Kalpana in Ghajini. But there's something earnest about its mediocrity that had me grinning throughout.

Inside Ainthu Ainthu Ainthu is a very good movie just jostling to break free. I know how songs are useless in most of our movies, but they are particularly unnecessary in this film. Except for that one song which looked like a compilation of a handful of Vine videos, the film should have avoided the rest. There are moments where the direction is really bad. Instead of making us understand a character's thoughts, Sasi simply has them mouth what's running through their head or makes us listen to their mind-voice. This is the kind of ineptitude which is unacceptable even for those mega-serials on Tamil channels. 

A few minutes into the film, I smugly told myself how I expected it to end; my predictions couldn't have been more wrong. That's the one thing about Ainthu Ainthu Ainthu that I love: it always kept me puzzled about the happenings and continuously piled mounds of absurd as it moved forward. The kind of epic backstory and sentimentality it lends its antagonist is sheer rip-roaring awesomeness. The non-linear screenplay is a huge plus in making the film interesting. Also, the hero doesn't simply sport a tiny band-aid to show for his major accident.. he has deep scars running the lengths of his face. How often do we see that? 

After misguidedly wasting a good many years trying to score big by playing aruva-wielding characters in films like Pazhani, Seval and Thiruthani, Bharath appears to have finally reassessed his priorities as an actor. In Ainthu Ainthu Ainthu, he has evidently worked very hard and for the first time he looks convincing enough to beat dozens of people. Heck, he looks like a mountain of raw meat. Sure, he is lacking in scenes which could use more subtlety but he carries the movie on his dangerously broad, ripped shoulders. 

One of the film's strikingly prominent elements is how utterly naive the character of Liyana can be. She is stoopid (with the double o's, yes) enough to believe Aravinth possesses some special power that lets him learn very personal things about her life. In reality, he is, of course, stalking her like a creep. I think we all agree that no other film industry writes ingenue female characters like Kollywood. On a scale of toddler to a fully formed intelligent adult, our women often unfortunately fall within the range of Anjali papa and Genelia D'Souza in Santosh Subramaniam. But with a mental age dwindling between 6 and 12, Liyana threatens to change these parameters forever. The director himself acknowledges this ridiculous characterization and has Santhanam make a quip about it -- who says exactly what everyone in the auditorium was thinking. My question is.. why is it always the female character who gets portrayed as a complete idiot? 

As the end credits started rolling, a sympathy-porn montage was shown featuring all the strenuous activities the film's crew performed. For the last time, you just don't do that. It is like performing a magic show and then revealing all the tricks at the end of the show. Also, it is plain pathetic. 

Ainthu Ainthu Ainthu is a desi-version of Shutter Island dunked in judicious amount of garam masala. It is logically stunted and I cannot promise you a good time, but I sure did have a lot of fun. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Smurfs 2 (2013)

Where do I begin? It goes without saying that The Smurfs 2 was made keeping in mind a particular target audience.. a demographic to which I fortunately do not belong anymore. My reactions ranged from fighting to keep my eyes open to cringing at all the syrupy sweetness. There have been many cutesy films with sugar overdose, but what makes them bearable is that there's something in them for adults too. The Smurfs 2, on the other hand, is relentlessly childish. 

If I am being honest here, I must let this be known that my six year old self probably would have enjoyed this movie. Heck, he had a great time watching Dunston Checks In and Baby's Day Out. Why I am skeptical about recommending this movie to kids of today is because they have been audience to works far more better than this film.

I have not seen Smurfs in any medium before today and I know close to nothing about the mythology. My beef is not with the characters, but with this particular film that I had the misfortune of sitting through. The sense of wonder which I believe is a must in every film targeted at kids is conspicuously amiss. The lines are inundated with puns which you might find funny if you are six. 

Because God forbid Hollywood made a movie for kids without a message in it, The Smurfs 2 has a thing going about relationship between a child and his/her stepfather. Not to sound too cynical, but this sort of superficial window dressing is not likely to make any impact whatsoever. 

The Smurfs 2 is to the kids what the Transformers movie is to us adults- we are better off without them. Let's nip it in the bud and save our children from more Smurfs sequels.