Monday, October 21, 2013

The Mundane Times (or) Bits and Bobs, though I suspect I have used this post header once in the past

A day out at the movies

So, I've seen Gravity and yes, it was completely worth the hype. Now, let me go out on a limb and say that it could well figure in my all-time Top 10 list. Yes, it was THAT G-O-O-D. Whoever thought Sandra Bullock could emote so well but the real star of the movie was the special effects. The 3D is completely immersive and non-gimmicky (if you ignore the debris that flies out at you for a few seconds in the 2nd half ) and at 90 odd minutes, the film just about manages to ensure that you don't suffer from a migraine on using the 3D glasses. The first 20 mts of the movie are sheer cinematic magic and IMO, even better than Avatar. Planning to catch it again on IMAX 3D - only hiccup being tickets are priced at 580 apiece. Gulp.

Also managed to watch Captain Phillips over the weekend and coming after the disappointment of Prometheus, it is safe to say that Ridley Scott is back in form. Even though the movie is 2hrs+, the pacing is relentless and after a certain point, I almost felt sea-sick and couldn't wait to see land. Tom Hanks is his usual capable self but the real revelation were the 4 actors who played the Somali pirates in the movie. I understand most of them have little to no acting experience and Barkhad Abdi as Muse was mind-blowing. The movie's biggest triumph is the fact that it went deep down to show the Somalis also as humans living in terrible conditions whose only hope of survival and stability is piracy. I'm a big fan of Paul Greengrass and though I've seen comparisons with the Bourne movies he directed in terms of style, I found this movie more comparable with his brilliant but under-rated United 93.

What's on Telly (not technically in Indian airs)

Breaking Bad has been making waves in the US for the last 5 years but all this time, I was blissfully unaware of it. When it comes to the Emmy's or the Golden Globe, I've tended to look more at Comedy, staying away from Drama (unless I see THAT name - Aaron Sorkin) and so it was till about 6 months ago... when I first heard about this show from my cousin. He's a big fan and watches the episodes streamed directly from the net which, I've got to admit, was something I'd never considered. Here I was, always looking for the nicest (read: good resolution small sized files) downloads from the internet when there was a completely easier option staring at my face... but I digress. Since then I've managed to complete Season 1 in one long day of binge watching and I must confess that the show sure sucked me into its world. Bryan Cranston is unbelievable as Walter White but I'm more a fan of Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman (his voice mail message is a riot). I can't wait to get started on Season 2 and 3 which are already safely down to my HDD.

Meanwhile, I've also got the whole of Season 1 of Veep lined up for a weekend and I'm also downloading The Americans whose Season 1 pilot was quite an entertaining watch.

So much to watch, so little time.

Page turners

William Boyd's SOLO is an interesting novel. For one, it is the official follow-up to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and the author was handpicked by Fleming's estate to take the series fwd.... of more interest to me was the decision to not set it in a contemporary context it like they have done with the movies but to set it up in the late 1960s in the Cold War days without the cars, cocktails and women :( I'm only 50-60 pages in but its been an interesting read so far. More on it later.

Also have Lee Child's Never Go Back waiting for my time and attention. I was never a fan of the Jack Reacher books and last year's movie did nothing to change my mind. However, there's been a lot of hype around this book and I just wanted to give it one last shot - hope I do not feel the same way as the title.

What else is cooking

Work, work and more work. Not been an easy couple of quarters with pressure at office building up to boiling levels but the holiday season will soon be upon us and with that, there will be a 3-4 week lull with hopes of a brighter tomorrow post the restart. 2014 can't come soon enough.

Talking on the phone to the other half takes a LOT of my time these days. Since Dee is growing up and does enough to entertain herself, the OH seems to have more time on her hands which isn't always a fun thing. Everything in her mind - from redoing our house to make it baby-proof, prepaying our housing loan, immunisation schedules, car servicing - gets discussed in detail and I yearn for the days of peace and quiet when the phone NEVER rang at home :-)

On the contrary, technology enabling greater connectivity does have its plusses too -  I don't really miss Dee growing up as everything she does gets captured on video and uploaded on Youtube or I catch it live on Skype. Cheers, I say. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dealing with loss

When you lose someone dear, it is always a very painful blow to take. The usual platitudes of "he's lived a long and fulfilling life" "It's always better to die peacefully than in pain" "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away" all seem (to ME atleast) tired cliches or trite, meaningless much so that I just switch off.

My default first reaction seems to be one of shock/despair/feeling of emptyness or hollowness and it usually takes me quite sometime to even accept that the loss is permanent. I then seem to always fall into a shell and look back fondly at all the pleasant memories that defined my relationship with the person which invariably ends with me ruing the fact that it will never happen again....and then, the strangest thing happens to me. I rarely cry. I go into full denial mode and become an ostrich - I distract myself with reading, writing, cleaning, walking, anything that will take my mind off the situation at hand for a good 2-3 days. Sometimes, I worry about even this approach. I guess we all have our ways of coping with loss.

Anyway, I'll miss you Maama - outside of immediate family, I think you were one of the few people who was ALWAYS hoping and wishing the best for me and I really valued and cherished that. 

The safest/coolest/best job in India has its greatest day EVER

If you work in the Indian Meteorological Department, YESTERDAY was the best/greatest day you ever had or ever could have. You finally got S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G right and what's more important, others (read:: foreign forecasters who slaughtered you on your failure to predict the 2004 Tsunami) got it WRONG. Mr. L.S. Rathore could not have been more smug even if he wanted to.

Woooooooooooooohooooooooooooooooooooo !!!

Let history remember this day - 13th September, 2013 - as the day we Indians showed we could show the middle finger to Western superpowers !!!

Where are all the critics???

For more fun read here 

Vanakkam Chennai - a vanity project in vain

KU:           “I’m tired of sitting at home and playing socialite wife while you have all the fun”
US:          “What fun???? It’s tough work having to act like a wooden spoon and make Hansika perform like she’s Amy Adams”
KU:         “I don’t care. I want to do masti too.”
US:         “Shall I ask Dad and get you a Lok Sabha seat? If we win and it is hung parliament, you could even become minister like Chiranjevi-gaaru”
KU:         “Naaah, politics bores me. Besides, there is a chance I might actually end up in jail”
US:         “What do you have in mind then?”
KU:         “I wanna be your heroine in your next movie.”
US:         “What !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No da kanne, you’re my real life heroine. Let’s not mix real and reel - they are bad bed-fellows *nudge nudge wink wink* ”
KU:         “So what do you suggest?”
US:         “How about me producing a movie and you can direct it with anyone as hero? Even Rajinikant  !!”
KU:         “Woohooo…thank you…. I loooooooooove that Radio Mirchi Shiva, his mokkai jokes are so so funny… him and Santhanam will be awesome, illa chellam?

…and that, ladies and gentlemen, was how “Vanakkam Chennai” was conceived.  An expensive vanity project, funded by an exasperated husband  for his bored-as-hell, lazy wife.  Sounds familiar – someday we will talk about 3 J

What works:
·         Priya Anand – I have tracked her from her Vaamanan days and she was the best thing in 180 too (besides Sharreth’s music, of course). She’s gone from strength to strength with English Vinglish, Ethir Neechal and now VC and she strikes me as someone with huge amount of potential, almost Vidya Balan-like.  She also happens to be one of the few Tamil heroines I would specifically write a script for (more on that later)
·         Hmmmmm….the gorgeous music but then I already had the songs on repeat mode in my iPad

What doesn’t:
·         Almost everything else
o   I am a sucker for a good rom-com but it’s been ages since I genuinely enjoyed a “routine” film in this genre – I have no problems with the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back storylines except the least I expect is atleast some excitement in the meet-cutes and the making-up process. Here, there is NOTHING. NADA.
o   The story is as old as the hills and it’s probably funny that even this was plagiarized but there is absolutely no excuse for the lack of novelty in story-telling.
o   In VC, the characterizations are stereotyped and weak, the comedy is flat, the song picturisation lacks imagination and goddamnit, the hero looks overweight and the cameraman couldn’t be bothered to hide it – Overall, the entire movie-making crew’s effort seems lazy and I am being very charitable here.

Recommendation:  Watch it at leisure from the comforts of a giant LED TV in your house when it is screened soon on some satellite channel and you might actually not feel bad about the 2.5 hrs gone

Raja Rani - a royal train wreck

Raja Rani has come and gone and also supposedly conquered a lot of hearts (and set the box office ringing) but my experience with the movie was very mixed. Actually, I went through 3 distinctly different phases and what I’ve shared below is not a formal review but more of a tracing my journey with the film.

Part 1: Pre-release

The promos had generated a fair bit of curiosity – firstly, RR boasted of the return of the hit pairing of Arya and Nayantara post BEB (*puke*)  and then there was the whole wedding invitation advertisement. Post audio release, the chart busting music added to the buzz and there was also talk about the movie being this generation’s Mouna Ragam with the Kollywood fraternity unanimous in proclaiming the arrival of the next big thing Atlee Kumar.  After all, he was Shankar’s assistant in Enthiran/Nanban and at 26, he’d managed to get Fox Studios and AR Murugadoss to fund his debut venture.

Not so surprisingly, the first few reviews of the movie held sharply contrasting views ranging from calling it a cult-classic to labeling it utter tripe. I was bemused by the hostility and angst displayed in social media about the young film-maker and how people seemed to delight in his “failure”. The reactions seemed extreme and even reeked of jealousy but the more balanced commentators also pointed out that Atlee had got so caught up in his own hype that he had got a lot of the basics wrong.  With all this running in the background, it was with a strange curious fear that I finally caught up with the movie.

Part 2: Post release and Week 1

Straight off the bat, let me set the record straight. This is no Mouna Ragam, hell, it doesn’t even come close. Yes, it deals with relationships but in a very clumsy, amateur way that had me wanting to wring the writer’s neck in frustration but more on that later……

What works
·         Nayantara – she brings a quiet calm and dignity to most of her roles and Raja Rani is another feather in her cap so much so that I actually realized how much we’d missed her when she took that break from movies during her dalliance with PD.
·         Shooting most of the songs in montages clearly was an inspired decision – “Hey Baby” was nicely done and its evident that Atlee has learnt well from Shankar
…..hmmm……its really bare pickings if I have to think hard of 3 nice things to say
·         BGM, though melodramatic and a little over-the-top during the emotional scenes, fits well into the mood of the film and GV deserves some credit for that.

What doesn’t work
·         The characters are deeply flawed but not in a real-world kind of way. I just didn’t get why two adults who’re joined together by fate but who’ve both gone through similar tragedies in life couldn’t get down and talk about it. The more I think about Raja Rani, the more Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya starts looking better… and that can never be a good thing. 
·         The dialogues are downright silly – for a supposedly class/multiplex movie, they are clearly aimed at the LCDs (Lowest Common Denominator) sitting in the front benches.  Many of the characters regularly deliver love sermons and spout supposedly thought-provoking life lessons but if you really let the words sink in, they make absolutely no sense.
·         The film is unable to settle down consistently to one tone – I was constantly left confused as to whether it was an emotional drama with lighter moments or was it a fun filled comedy film with a few heavy scenes.
·         The casting for the leads is ultimately one of the film’s greatest weaknesses – Arya just does not have the gravitas to pull off emotional scenes. I half expected him to launch into a self-deprecatory joke in almost every scene that required him to showcase serious acting. A Jeeva (not the SMS wala but the NEP wala) might have honestly done better. Jai’s soft but weak simpleton is sort of similar to the one he played in Engeyum Eppodhum but he is seriously out of form in this film. The other stars clearly had no need/time to prepare for the movie - Santhanam comes in and does what he does (I can’t get myself to call it comedy) in every other movie these days without giving us 1 reason to remember that he even figured in the movie 24 hrs later and Nazriya’s role requires her to be just cute and bubbly and she does that as well as any other 18 year old in India with any acting experience.  Satyaraj tries hard to get into the skin of a dad-with-a-difference but the effort shows and reminded me so much of that genius Raghuvaran who managed to do exactly the same with consummate ease in Yaaradi Nee Mohini.
·         I could quibble on a million other details but the single most glaring flaw in the movie is the message it wants its “followers” to take back – if there is life after love failure and if there is actually love itself after love failure, what on earth is that last scene in the airport with Jai and his ring all about? WHAT THE HECKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK !!!!!!!!!!

Part 3 - Post movie watching experience and Week 3 onwards

I’ve spoken to a lot of people and heard a cross-section of views and looks like the movie does indeed have its devotees. Every time I’ve shared my concerns/issues, I have been roundly dismissed as being too critical. The film has already made a lot of money and seems to be drawing a hardcore crowd of lovelorn, lost/confused teenagers (read: vayasu kolaaru pasanga) over and over again.  In short, it has found its audience and is being celebrated as a grand success.  I only hope and pray that it does not spawn off a series of such terrible “love message” movies.

Why can’t young & aspiring directors aim high instead of just focusing on what will work at the box office?

Naiyandi - a film that HAD to be made

It's unfair to judge Naiyandi for its artistic/creative merits. I, for one, clearly think that the movie was made for a lot of reasons and "satisfying/entertaining the audience" was NOT very high in the priority list of the makers. Shocked? Yes, I mean it.

So who is to blame? Where do we start?

Dhanush has had an interesting 2012/2013 (by chance or by choice I'm not sure). I'm guessing he was aware when he signed on, that movies like 3 and Mariyan (whilst challenging the actor in him) would not set the cash registers going and would probably set him back a little in the box office rat race. Mixing his commercial outings with the odd art-house effort has always been Dhanush's idea of  striking balance in his body of work but the timing of shoots/releases was what led to the problem of him having to do a Naiyandi. Whilst 3 and Mariyan left the business value chain (promoters, distributors, exhibitors, TV channels) with heavy losses, Ranjhanaa's success did not benefit the same stakeholders. (Not sure how commercially successful Ambikapathy was)

As a result, I suspect, what Dhanush needed whilst he waited for KV Anand (*groan*) to finish this script was to do a low budget quickie with a well-established director which would be an above average grosser and win him favour back with the Kollywood eco-system.

5 star films Kathiresan who had earlier produced memorable films like Aadukalam and Polladhavan for Dhanush was roped in. Not wanting to get into the bad books of the star and keeping in mind their past successful track record, I am sure he green lighted this project - breaking even was the aim and anything better would have been good as it would have only got his more friends in the value chain.

The next task was to find a competent, on-his-way-up director who was looking to move up to the elite league and would be glad for a chance to work with a "star" despite the other pitfalls. Enter Sargunam who had already created hits out of simple, rural stories like Vaagai Sooda Va and Kalavani. Sargunam, like Suseenthiran before, grabbed the opportunity and even agreed to work off an existing script (loosely basing the story on the Malayalam movie Meleparambil Aanveedu) and another piece of the puzzle had fallen in place.

A new music director in Ghibran with the clear mandate to create a couple of hummable tunes and Nazriya, the fast rising star from Malayalam, was chosen as the fresh lead for the "Maapillai".

A supporting case with some familiar faces like Sriman, Saranya Ponvannan, Pyramid Natarajan was added to give it the family appeal that is needed to crack the B/C centers and the usual suspects like Sathyan, Singampuli and Sathish were lined up to provide the laughs.

A couple of songs were shot in foreign locations, the film was sold in various areas for a reasonable price to ensure that everyone won, the usual PR overdrive happened and there was even a completely fake controversy created in the last few days prior to release to ensure that no stops were pulled to create the right buzz prior to release.

So what happened then?

The movie seems to have crashed and here's why I think it failed.

Someone forgot to tell the team that having all the right ingredients in place does not assure you that the final end product will be perfectly tasty for consumption.

  1. The story was lame.
  2. The screenplay had nothing interesting.
  3. The music did not catch on.
  4. The comedy fell flat.
  5. The production looked tacky.
  6. The Inikka Inikka song (where is her navel??) was butchered.
  7. The hero had no redeeming traits.
  8. The heroine was dull and plain boring.
  9. The villain had a blink-and-you-miss role.
  10. (Even) the climax fight was mokkai. 

I could go on and on. Yes, the film was a massive disappointment but it wasn't horrible as most of the reviews have made it out to be. It was uninspiring. Period.

As we speak, I am not sure how the film has turned out commercially. It will not create records but if it turns profitable to all concerned, then mission accomplished.

Wait... so where does it leave us, the money-paying theatre-going public? Yes, we were taken for a ride and if there is someone who has lost, it is us.....But I was willingly conned knowing that the film was NOT going to be good simply coz this gives Dhanush the license/leeway to do a Mariyan which is what I want to see him do.

PS:  In the middle of some decent films, I remember Vikram also giving us monstrosities like King, Majaa, Bheema etc and I don't think he copped as much flak as Dhanush is getting for Naiyandi. Double standards?

Varutha Padatha Valibar Sangam:: How to be Happy-go-lucky (till the cookie crumbles)

OK, it’s time to confess.

I was not a big fan of Siva Karthikeyan (SK) even from his Vijay TV days but when someone from your town, and your school, makes it B-I-G in Kollywood, you just shove your biases/opinions aside and join in line to fete the underdog’s success.  Yes, he’s from Campion and he’s a CHAMPION, I say.  Proud of you Siva. Enjoy your dream run (while it lasts), my friend.

He was good in Marina and no one can deny that what saved 3 from a colossal disaster was the light, first half where Siva was a joy to watch as he teamed up with Dhanush. There are some things in life where MORE is good - like an Edberg backhand volley, a Ganguly cover drive or even a Tirupati Laddoo  - but Siva Karthikeyan playing boy next door yet again is NOT one of them….. but still our Kollywood producers seems to know what’s best and therefore, we’ve had to endure Manam Kothi Paravai, Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga and Ethir Neechal.

Varutha Padatha Valibar Sangam is the next product from SK’s assembly line. The film boasts of a story line that will struggle to utilize all of Twitter’s 140 characters and is replete with inane, mind-numbing one liner funnies delivered with annoying sincerity by SK and Parotta Suri.  Satyaraj is yet again wasted in a paycheck role and director Ponram, who credits his mentor Rajesh for teaching him the craft of making movies, shows us why bad teachers can be dangerous for the world. 

On the positives, it was nice to hear nasal Hariharasudhan sing this, the heroine Sri Divya has a pretty / expressive face and there is a nice director’s touch of using Bindhu Madhavi,  a regular in these B centre comedies (*groan*), in a cameo role to remind viewers exactly of what kind of movie this is. Besides that, there are absolutely no other redeeming factors but still……

Recommendation:  Must watch in theatres or by buying an original DVD (SK is married and has a family to support and if this current run continues, he will soon be jobless so needs to make as much hay while the sun shines)