Monday, October 14, 2013

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?

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