Friday, August 31, 2007

Did You Know???

In an age dominated by the lazy game of cricket, that even a pretender like me can play with aplomb, the news of India reaching the final and then winning the Nehru Cup, screamed at me for attention and then filled me with a genuine feeling of happiness. If you still thought, it was another cricket tourney, forget it. Be ready to blink...the game was soccer and the opponents were not our regular South Asian neighbours. I went through this video and countless articles on the triumph with hope of a turnaround in a sport that India was genuinely good at until the mid-90's and then faded away. It can't be a coincidence that India's performance in athletics, football, tennis, and countless other sports took the downward trend once cricket attracted our singular attraction? A regular, pleasing, thrilling sight on train journeys through Kerala was local youngsters playing football and volleyball and a small crowd watching took that place for a while, but last year again i saw those small-timers back to playing football and i rejoiced. Maybe the soccer World Cup last year has certainly helped India.

The Nehru Cup held in TVM in the late eighties was my first initiation into watching a sport as a spectator. A C.V.Pappachen goal from the left flank beating three Czechoslovakian defenders and netting the ball from an almost 180deg angle to the goal mouth is still fresh in memory. I.M.Vijayan debuted the next year for Kerala Police who won the Federation Cup, following which Kerala won the Santhosh Trophy after 18 years. V.P.Sathyan, the captain of the two victorious teams, who tragically killed himself last year was the hero of every malayali then. In school, I still remember every one of my classmates playing football with these names on their mouths. In the eighties and early 90's Kerala sport reached its pinnacle with supreme performances in athletics by PT Usha, Shiny Wilson and co, in basketball with CV Sunny, Jayashankar Menon and the rest of their Kerala Police team, volleyball under late Jimmy George besides the legendary football team I wrote of earlier.

Some years back a very talented young footballer who promised a lot and should have been part of this victorious team, Pradeep Jose(not sure that is his name, memory has faded, there is a kerala footballer, Vinu Jose, i think he is his brother, or maybe...), whom I had seen playing for Calicut University once, on that superb Trivandrum Doordarshan programme, Kalikkalam, who made it to the Kerala State team and indian team but died of typhoid, unknown, uncared for, in a hospital in Andhra Pradesh where he had gone, representing Kerala in some tournament. Last year or year before, I saw a Santhosh trophy match, i think the semi or final, which could be termed listless at best, long overhead cross passes failing to reach their intended recipient, clumsy tackles, a boringly sedate "friendly" performance, and i flicked channels, wondering how things came to so low a level. Its heartbreaking to see Leander stretch himself to his limits to keep India in the Davis Cup match after match, and no youngster coming up to replace him, either in skill or spirit and you wonder how, in earlier times, a steady flow of talented players like Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Peas and Mahesh Bhupathi kept arriving to take over the baton from the older set.

Is cricket responsible? Are we responsible? Were the men who marketed cricket more smarter than the ones who helmed football, hockey and athletics? With enthusiasm, I told my colleague of India winning the Nehru Cup and he scornfully remarked, "Maybe it was some local team." This same person keeps bombarding me with cricket scores each time India plays. If an Indian, can show such extremes of apathy and empathy for two Teams' in Blue, all of us can imagine, what sort of inspiration, support and pride indian sports persons outside cricket have to play for. I don't know if its a mentality developed as an offshoot of globalization, that the weaker ones are left by the wayside...but we see it happening everywhere. In the agricultural sector, in movies, in sports, arts and in almost every aspect of Indian life, a lot of what has been welded to make up our India has been ignored and left to fend for itself. Surely, all this doesnot bode well for us. Ironically, it needed an Englishman to coach, impart confidence and set free a young set of caged boys from the stigma of being ignored by their own countrymen and gain their attention, not by marketing, sponsorship or hype but through a renaissance on the football ground. Is Indian football rising from the ashes? I'd like to believe so.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Goliath Is Winning...

I was in a bad, bad mood. Got into the car. Put on one of my fave songs lately, from Vadakkumnathan, Gange, the last classical song from the late Raveendran & Yesudas combo. Mohanlal's voice came up previewing the song and I shut it off hastily. "Drat! I want some silence." I clenched my teeth and felt like biting my lips to grind out the irritation with that voice which once soothed, once made me laugh, cry and fall in love with love. My sis giggled at my frustration, making an effort to hide hers. We had just come out from a screening of this years mega-blockbuster in malayalam, hit directorial team of Rafi-Meccartin's Hallo. This year had seen me repeat the angry act many times over...after watching Baba Kalyani, Mayavi and Chota Mumbai which have been the big hits this year. I have a new cardinal rule in place for watching malayalam films...also watch movies from newer untouted directors, younger fresh-faced actors, scriptwriters who have never delivered a hit and films that came and went without making a blip on the malayali conscience. As a result I have watched some good malayalam films in the last one year which many of you evaded, never heard of or never bothered to know of. As I write this two small films, Veeralipaattu and Thaniye, are dying or already gone from Kerala theatres.

The reason I write about Veeralipattu, though I havent seen it yet, is because it has my favorite malayalam actor of today, Prithviraj in the leading role, a debutant scriptwriting team, Ashok-Sasi who deserves early encouragement and finally the young director, Kukku Surendran whose debut film, Oraal, which I will write about later, was a brilliant effort. On Prithviraj, an actor whom I dedicated a post to, in this blog in July 2005, after watching his debut Tamil effort, Kana Kandein and realizing this was one man who deserved to succed in Kerala, i find he is in no better position, two years later in 2007. 2006 was his career-defining period where he broke out and away from all accusations of copying the superstars, limited range, lack of flexibility with such diverse roles as a wrongly accused victim of a sex scandal in Achanurangatha Veedu; the intense, brooding, rough-toungued corrupt cop of Vargam; the fiery SFI student leader with a romantic side who returns years later broken and mellowed in Classmates; the harmless, honest govt clerk from Kasargod whose transition into a guily, ambitious and cunning bureaucrat caught in between three women and salvaging his career when surrounded by enemies, all leading to his salvation in the classic film, Vasthavam and finally ending the year with an understated performance as a young, idealistic journalist in Pakal who reports on the actual scenario of Wayanad's crop failures and suicides blending himself beautifully into an otherwise shoddy film, Prithvi's career has come a long way but is Kerala listening? This year, in Mozhi, he made an indelible mark in Thamizhakam, in the role of a young, earnest musician in love with a deaf-and-dumb girl and in the process proved he could do comedy also effectively, if given the chance.

Well enough of Prithviraj, you guys might say I am overtly praising him, but I am frustrated by the continuing apathy of kerala's youngsters to go out and watch his movies on the big screen. It seems fashionable to say he is arrogant, loud-mouthed, not that talented, over-hyped and therefore his movies shouldnt be watched. I came across many people who pass judgement on him, without even watching his recent movies. Both Mammootty and Mohanlal are prisoners of their fanbase. Good Mammootty films like Karuthapakshikal, Kaiyoppu, Mission 90 Days and Big B have failed to run as they should have because his fans, especially in Malabar, crave for just a typical masala potboiler with comedy, action, romance, melodrama and sentiments thrown in. Mohanlal on the other hand is lucky he has admirers throughout Kerala among the old, kids, women and beyond his huge rowdy fan association, all of which will ensure even his good films like Thanmatra, Vadakkumnathan and Keerthichakra have a decent run at the BO, even without fan support. A few months back 3000 Mohanlal fans were present at the launch of Alibai and a similar number on his birthday celebration in Chengalchoola in TVM. What has Lal done to deserve so much praise since the late 90's. Teenagers and youngsters talk of him like he is their youth icon. But I am sorry. He is 45+. He was the icon of an earlier age...the eighties and early 90's when he did all those special roles. There is a simple explanation for all this. It is the psychology of the mob on display. It is cool among the rough and tough guys of Kerala to be a fan of these superstars and everyone else just joins in to become yet another cool guy and be part of a fraternity and soon they are sucked into believing these two are demi-goods and everyone else in Malayalam, a threat. Unfortunately, this is Kerala with a shrinking audience for cinema where across the board support is needed to rescue a film and not TN, Andhra or Bombay where theatre collections easily run into crores by the opening weekend itself. These superstars have lost it...they are treating us to average fare and we are deluding ourselves that Hello and Mayavi and others are another great effort from them. I have had enough pouring scorn and being cynical and all those things i hate to do and be...I move to the main purpose of this eye-opener to recent good malayalam cinema which failed at the box-office that many of you maynot have had a chance to see, and which is available on vcd/dvd for all of u out there.


Oraal(2005)- The pair of Kukku Surendran-T.K.Devakumar's debut movie, a psychological thrller, Oraal, had Mukesh and Sreya Reddy in a leading role, telling the story of an avante-garde film director and his live-in partner, making a trip to a forest where he intends to write his next script. There, certain fears in the form of a young, bearded man who questions the pseudo-achievements of Mukesh, and gains the attraction of Sreya, enter his mind, all of which leads him down a path of self-destruction. It is what many of you call a slow movie...but I felt there was good suspense allthroughout, unguessable climax, and a very interesting young "villain" character, who is from a theatre background. Adoor Gopalakrishnan praised Kukku for his direction at a film festival.

Mayookham(2005) - Hariharan returns to a genre of film-making he seemingly ditched after the rotten, Prem Poojari. With Saiju Kurup and Mamta Mohandas in the lead, the film dealt with a young, jobless ruffian from a Brahmin family, Saiju Kurup, who fails repeatedly to find a job due to his upper-caste status and turns a rebel and falls into wild company. Enter Mamta Mohandas an NRI girl on a vacation who manages in him a change of heart and prompts him to pursue his old hobby of writing poetry and taking up a lowly press job. Shot in and around beatiful locales on the banks of the Nila, with beatiful songs by the last veteran standing, Bombay Ravi, enchanting cinematography by S.Kumar, a solid script by Hariharan himself and a splendid debut effort by the brooding and intense Saiju Kurup this film sadly went unoticed. The only flaw in the film was that it failed to factor in the IT age where jobs are available for those who try for entry there. Moreover today noone seems interested in the concept of wayward, idealistic youth rebelling against the establishment.

Achanurangatha Veedu(2006) - After the blockbuster, Chanthupotte in 2005, no one expected Lal Jose to take up an offbeat subject, give it as commercial a treatment as possible and extract a fine understated, sensitive performance from over-the-top comedian, Salim Kumar, in the scripts of Babu Janardhanan, for whom this was a second birth in malayalam cinema. Devoid of any sort of melodrama, this film based on the Suryanelli sex scandal, tells the story of a christian-converted widowed clerk, bringing up his three daughters, of whom the youngest is his favorite and a good student. She goes missing one day and incidents from there throw the life of the family upside down and gradually destroys them. Not at all dragging or slow, and not senti-senti, which many people cited as a reason to avoid this movie, i must commend director, Lal for the final shot of the movie which leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. Undobutedly he is a filmmaker at the prime of his talents, as proved later by Classmates and Arabikatha, but unfortunately all the clout he commanded at the box office failed to save this one.

Nottam(2006) - Everyone has listened several times to the wonderful Pachapanamthathe song in this movie. This movie is no less special for the wonderful performance of a handful of veterans of malayalam cinema, Nedumudi Venu, Jagathi Sreekumar and Gopakumar. A young man arrives in a village in Kerala to shoot a documentary on Theyyam accompanied by his friend, a native of the village. Nedumudi plays a traditional patriach who gives in, to videographing his performance, on the urging of his close friend and co-artist, Jagathi's insistence. Jagathi plays his age but comes up with a delightful performance which makes us smile(the malayalam world i use for his character is sarasan...jovial is a close parallel in english...but its not the same!) and then sad. Venu steels the scene in a spell-binding climax. Samvritha Sunil is lovable as the young, village belle. Directed by Sasi Paravoor, I felt gladdened, if only for consolation, that this movie won some awards also this year.

Akale(2005) - Perhaps the first of many noteworthy performances from Prithviraj which went unnoted by the masses. Akale tells the story of a middle-aged, almost broken poet who is still trying to reconcile with his disjointed, cruel past while akcknowledging his present is crumbling. Akale is about Sheela, in the role of a nitwitty, pushy mother whose repeated attempts to straighten her young, helpess son who hates his day job drives him to drugs, alcohol and despair and prods her fragile, physically unable daughter, Geethu Mohandas to escape the confines of her house and find companionship and love, only succeeding in driving her deeper into a shell. A young man in the neighbourhood catches Sheela's eyes as a prospective groom for her daughter, but much to the despair and lack of faith of both her children, she succeds in getting them to agree to it and what follows is a touching portrayal of four human lives thrown amidst a cauldron of opposing emotions, one night. Brilliantly scripted and directed by Shyamaprasad, and photographed to drop-dead perfection by the veteran, S.Kumar and costumes by Kukku Parameshwaran, besides superb performances from Sheela, Geethu, Prithviraj and Tom George, this is a must-watch movie for all. Our movies have become too fast-paced recently, if you are willing to slow down your pace, you should enjoy the artistic powerhouse that is this movie.

Vargam(2006) - If you are looking for the film, that for the first time opened a lot of Malayali eyes, to the talent and screen presence Prithviraj can command, it was this film. Out of theatres in a few weeks, but incredibly popular on torrent sites by word-of-mouth, this movie presents Prithvi as a never before seen policeman on malayalam screen. For the "superlatives" on his character refer to the passage on Prithvi above and I have nothing more to say. Scripted and directed by M.Padmakumar, on an evil cop's rough ride to salvation, the movie has slight similarities to his mentor, Ranjith's Devasuram, but saw Prithviraj improve his dialogue delivery and his physique to deliver a truely break-through performance.

Vasthavam(2006) - Babu Janardhanan returned for the second time in 2006 and paired up with M.Padmakumar to tell a gripping tale of the rise and fall of an ordinary secretariat employee, who plots his way up the bureaucracy to become a powerbroker, but one by one, finds himself losing the people close to him and finally alone...all leading to a finely shot climax stunt sequence, filmed by upcoming cameraman Manoj Pillai. Prithviraj in leading role shows why he is the only young actor around with the flair to take up a multi-hued character whose personal life is in a muddle as he deserts his lady love for a marriage of convenience, seduces and then ditches a divorcee who gives him a helping hand in his career, ignores his wife and connives to draw his lady love closer to him, even apologizing for his behavior to his wife while still helplessly in love with another. His professional life is not much better either with problems recurring again and again, most of it of his own doing. Jagathy in an unforgettable character, of a benefactor to the lead character, draws our applause, smiles and thoughts, sometimes all these, even in the same dialogue. Good performances from Salim Kumar as the tottering businessman trying to shore up his fortune, Samvritha Sunil as the docile, all-suffering wife is a revelation and Kavya Madhavan as the lady love, who does a balancing act with Prithvi, even after her marriage, finally having enough of other people drawing the strings of her life.

Oruvan(2006) - A badly scripted film which stood out for Indrajith's intense performance as a psychopath and debutant director, Vinoo Anand's deft handling of the subject and coming up with some finely shot scenes.

Pakal(2006) - What I call an activist film. A young journalist goes to Wayanad to investigate farmer suicides and crop failures. He lays the blame squarely on the private money-lenders in the area and goverment's callousness and negligence when formulating policies. The film is taken us through the lives of some families, and introduces us to sitiations like women unable to find husbands, people who got overtaxed by uncaring offcials, people taking loans beyond their means, etc. Despite the good efforts of debutant drector Nishad, the script is too bad to give him a chance. Again if you are a Prithvi fan like me, you notice how, he manages to stay the course despite the uneven script.

Sancharam(2005) - A brilliant movie set in a central-travancore village depicting the friendship between two girls growing gradually to the point they fall in love with each other, catch the attention of teachers and family, and are seperated, with the movie ending tantalizingly at a point where one girl stares down a waterfall and the other is about to tie the knot. Possibly, only the second malayalam film, about lesbianism, this film directed by NRK, Ligy Pullapally, stands out for good direction, very life-like dialogues, haunting background music, excellent camera-work and splendid performances by the two lead girls and the supporting cast. A must watch that deserved a lot of theatre time.


No apologies for this long post. I had to get it out of my system. I am no intellectual or know-it-all film critic. I just want people to open their eyes to the mediocrity before us. Good malayalam cinema is not dead...the movies i wrote about above are some of the good ones...small films we fail to know of, drowned in the worthless, pointless advertising, marketing, superstar-centric overdose that you and I are spoonfed in Kerala. I don't want Prithviraj or any other youngster to be a superstar in the future. The reason I loved his movies recently was that he played characters who are vulnerable, characters with flaws and faults, a leading hero who lets other characters also have scope to perform, even at the risk of outshining him. Mohanlal, Mammootty, Suresh Gopi, Dileep films are all about themselves. None of the acting talents of malayalam are allowed to shine in their movies, no slice of life of Kerala comes out in their movies, finally none of their characters look like you, or me, our parents, or any ordinary person in Kerala. It would be good if you remember the kind of films, they did earlier for us to put them up on such a high pedestal, now it would be equally good for us and our cinema, if we pulled these superheroes of Kerala down to our own level. Its just a suggestion!

P.S - In the malayalam film, Rajavinte Makan which propelled Lal to stardom, a character delivers this line..."Ente Achane Paranjaal Njan Sahikkum. Pakshe Ente Nethavine Paranjal...". On a discussion forum I saw a Lal fan use the same line, but substituting the Nethavu with Lalettan!!! Mohanlal is only a reel-hero, damnit...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Antony, You Too Brutus!!!

Like Antony, who has now forsaken his mushinje naariya kadar shirt and mundu, even I made a decision few weeks back on my was a choice my close ones suggested much earlier, but I rejected on the grounds of some principles, which today has been rendered obsolete by change. Change is good, change is a must for me...less than a year remains for me to face the choice i made...until then its my little secret. So, no questions asked!