Month: October 2012

Cross Posting

Hello hello! Just thought I’d point out that I’ve finally decided to get all Internet-Savvy-Columnist-Journalist-Bladeist and consolidated the stuff I’ve written outside of the blog into the blog. Yay!

Future Nonsense written outside of the Blog to be filed under “Cross Posting” & is also linked as a separate page in my fancy new Headline Link Bar. Thingy.  
Hope you guys enjoy reading!

Masala!

[Originally Published in Talk Magazine, Bangalore]



A wise man once said, “Tamil film makers don’t do different things, they do things differently”. Okay, so I may have taken a little columnist license with that particular proverb there, but that’s what it is. The difference isn’t much, really, but the notion that Hindi and Tamil movies are as different as chalk and Chihuahuas or whatever, has been on the rise the past decade and led to the rise of quite a few stereotypes. The most popular stereotype of the lot that people have been tricked into, is that all Tamil films are essentially Rajnikanth saving humanity from all kinds of evil while defying every law that Newton took the trouble of coming up with, which is total and complete nonsense. For starters, Rajnikanth films take at least three years per release.



Anyway, it’s simple enough, all SuperHit Indian movies up to the early 90s had pretty much the same formula. Then, Bollywood changed course while South Indian Cinema didn’t. So today, the “formula” part of the Bollywood “formula” movie involves a story (or something like it), which is embellished with an impossibly good looking star cast, lots of Manish Malhotra and a dance number which has a special appearance by Amitabh Bachchan. Add an “Item Number” which features the latest It Girl and air it as a “promo” a couple months before the actual movie releases and voila, empty hype! I mean, formula complete.



Now the Bollywood story almost always involves a value, such as family, friendship, love and the like. Tamil formula movies on the other hand, thrive on old-school. The hero is the story, the Manish Malhotra, the dance number with the special appearance by Amitabh Bachchan, hell, he’s even the Amitabh Bachchan of that number. Tamil Cinema takes the term “Hero” very seriously. The story is never about friendship or family per se, but his family, his friendship, his love, and his occasional association with the local goons. The truth is, it doesn’t take much for a formula movie to do well in the South – Take the super-hit-beyond-human-comprehension, Baasha. This was not just the movie that elevated Rajnikanth’s status from Star to Superstar DemiGod, but also the only Tamil film (that I know of) which had a flashback within a flashback. (At this point I’d like to put forth that I wouldn’t be surprised if it ever comes out that it was this movie which inspired Nolan to make Inception).


I have personally watched this movie about twenty-five times and I have enjoyed myself thoroughly about twenty-four times. One time I tried to apply logic to the story, and my brain fried itself in the process because there is none, whatsoever. None. NIL. In fact, it defies anything and everything that logic stands for. However, nobody really cared, truth be told no one cares even today, even with all our resources to “better” films and such, because it’s SO entertaining.


The Tamil Cinema audience is really easy to please. All that we really care for, is a tight storyline, fast screenplay and a convincing star cast, and we’ll lap it up, logic be damned. A lot of film makers forget that the primary purpose most people even watch movies in the first place, is to be entertained – We want to be thrilled, we want to pick sides, we want to cheer for the leads and then come out of the theatre feeling good. That Bollywood is now remaking Tamil movies, or making Tamil style masala movies (like Dabaang) is just proof that there is no school like the old school.


However, it is important that Bollywood film makers pick the right movies and stick to the original screenplay – Singam was a wildly successful movie in the South because of it’s Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It racy screenplay and incredibly simple story line, but the remake was a total disappointment because of a couple of unnecessary twists that were introduced.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters whether people make or remake Masala movies, just as long as they are done right, because when they are, they are so much fun. Masala movies are the epitome of the Indian Movie Experience. I know quite a few people who argue for the cause of finer film making in India, with more realistic subjects, honest emotions and matter-of-fact endings. Personally, I am against that cause. When I watch a movie, I want to be told that the impossible is possible and that there is no such thing as too much ambition. I want to be told that there are police officers who stop at nothing to uphold law, I want to see bad guys go down for whatever they did wrong and I want to see everyone getting their happily ever after. Cinema, to me, is escape. Besides, if I wanted to watch something “real”, I wouldn’t watch a movie. I’d watch the news.




Oh, Those Jerks They Call Heroes

[Originally Written For Talk Magazine, Bangalore]



Love has always been one of Tamil cinema’s favourite narratives, somewhere between Corrupt Politicians and Evil Maternal Uncles. But lately, Tamil Cinema’s interpretation of love the past decade – that is, post 2000 (bet you thought 1990, ha!), I have issues with.
The post 2000 decade saw a lot of evolution and shifts – in ideas, thought processes, values, technicalities and more importantly, in stories, the kind of humour people enjoyed, the kind of cast the audience wanted to see on screen, the parts of North India from where heroines were sourced (and consequently cast as the “simple local girl” of some village in interior Tamil Nadu, because let’s face it, if the audience can buy  a plot where a guy can become a millionaire overnight by singing in front of a black background, Chandigarh and Theni are practically neighbouring cities), the works.  Unfortunately, where the element of romance in Tamil movies was concerned, it was less evolution and more Frankenstein experiment gone wrong.  

Modern romance and love in Tamil cinema has taken the two steps forward and ten steps back route – basically an urban, real, raw story with a 1980s Naatamai ending.  Now the urban, real, raw hero’s idea of an urban, real, raw romance is basically harassment, and that he gets his way at the end of it, is really disconcerting, because if you peel the sticker of “hero” away, all you get is your everyday stalker who hangs around in your bus stop. Whenever I see these kinds of movies, as a girl, I feel seriously offended. It’s not even just about the harassment, but that the hero-stalker believes that he’s been victimized because the girl “rejected” him – it’s, for the lack of a better word, bogus. What’s even more bogus is that after the relentless pursuit, harassment and invasion of personal space, the heroine realizes that he’s the absolute one for her and that he is actually a really lovable guy in his own urban, real, raw way. 

It’s important to note that Tamil Cinema is an education by itself for most people, which is why “mass” heroes always have a title song about important values like doing good, praising the lord, living in villages, charging correct autofares, the lot. So when movies that glorify harassment and teasing and “correcting” the deviant ways of women (which includes wearing jeans) it is not just validation, but encouragement for that kind of behaviour to thrive. Every time I see the upper middle class to rich, educated, heroine falling for the “diamond-in-the-rough” Prince Charming psychopath who had to call her crude names to win her heart, I can’t help but wonder if the Directors would be okay with their sisters doing the same, their daughters doing the same. Ah, but it’s only a movie! 

There is no equality or balance in the equation anymore. The girl isn’t an object of affection, but prey, like some exotic deer rabbit that our hero has to hunt down to prove his ability as an expert marksman. And the girl has no say in this, because if she’s not interested, she’s simply heartless. Or doesn’t have morals. Or both. Because you know, this is how urban, real, raw love stories are! Here’s an idea for a realistic movie – boy sees girl, boy follows girl, girl says no, boy still keeps following, girl says no, boy doesn’t listen, boy keeps following, girl asks him to stop, boy gets angry, says she doesn’t deserve any better, tells her that the only good decision she can take right now is to reciprocate his truelove, girl tells the police, they put him in jail, the end!
This rant comes from a place that is sick of watching extreme creepiness being peddled as “romance.”  7G Rainbow Colony, for instance, was a huge exercise in frustration. Oru Kal Oru Kannadi gave me blood pressure. Avan Ivan made me want to punch a wall or two. 

At this point I’d like to reaffirm my love for Tamil Cinema. I love the experience, to just sit in the theatre and watch an ordinary man becoming something larger than life in a span of three hours is an experience that is unparalleled. But when things start hitting you closer to home, it becomes uncomfortable and consequently unbearable. Recently, when I talked about this with a friend, he pointed out to the classic (and probably the greatest) Romantic Comedy of our generation, Singaravelan. 

I love that movie to the point where I can quote entire scenes off it. But when I think about it now, something doesn’t feel right. Underneath the hilarity, there are a lot of questions – why did Sumathi have to change her wardrobe to only Sarees after she decided she was in love with Velan? Velan had made a family promise to marry Sumathi, yes, but does that justify the endless pursuing? I think the reason Singaravelan stands out and makes you want to forgive it’s subtle moral lessons/misgivings is because it gave us a chase, not a hunt, and it gave us two characters that even the audience wanted to get together, it gave us romance, unlike the movies of today where all you want to do while watching it is get right into the movie screen, grab the “hero” and punch his face.

How I Fractured My Funny Bone

[Originally Published In The Banyan Trees, here
When I was about 6 years old, I remember being the funniest person in all of Standard II. I just was, simply because of the fact that I had no sense of balance. Let’s get real here – when you’re that age, falling on your face is pretty much the funniest thing ever and therefore, having been gifted the ability to fall on your face multiple times like I had instantly made me 6 year old Russell Peters.
 I found my balance that year, but thanks to a severe affliction of foot in the mouth disease, I managed to hold on to my position in the elementary school comic scene (although it is pertinent to note that I did face the occasional threat from II “B” Roshan who couldn’t hold his glasses in place. Amateurs).  A few years later, cruel, cruel puberty happened, which meant that apart from the occasional bad joke, I also cracked mirrors.
 Basically, high school for me was like one of those terrible tragedy-dramas that the audience finds hilarious. When I look back, I am fairly confident that 5 years from now, when people get together for alumni meets, I will be “that person” of all the “you remember when that person did this and that hilarious thing happened?” stories.  Hell, I have a blog dedicated to all those stories (lest they forget) and it even includes some choice experiences which happened during my internship. It’s quite a neat compilation really, from trying to get my first crush to notice me by staring the crap out of him, to valiantly speaking terrible Hindi with a client in Mumbai in the pursuit of learning the language and then having him tell me he was actually Tamil, to getting into trouble with miscellaneous auto drivers, I’ve done it all.
 That’s where life got interesting. People started liking what I was writing, never mind that I was writing the blog as a “Do Not Repeat These Mistakes  Again” kind of journal.  It was great at the start, but then as time progressed, there was pressure. People who had been reading my blog for a while decided that it was about time that I actually grew up, whereas the newer ones wanted more of what I had previously written (“Hahaha, that episode with the Autorickshaw was great! You should try that with a conductor sometime…and blog about it!”).
 What people don’t get is that I belong to the unintentional humour department. I don’t particularly enjoy that my toes have a semi permanent residence in my mouth, yet I do know that other people do, and so I share it.  Apparently, if you have to be funny these days, it’s not as simple as offering your own embarrassment to make other people laugh.
Maybe modern humour is complicated, simply because there are so many kinds; Especially with the internet, everyone is humourous in every manner, which leads to great expectations. Point being, you’re not going to be thought of as anyone remotely funny unless you have achieved that perfect mix of black comedy interlaced with subtle wit, suitably juxtaposed by sarcasm bordering on parody, but not a farce.
 I miss the times when all I had to do to make people laugh was to fall on my face.