Aarohanam – the search within

The story of a mentally disturbed mother is rather personal to me – something that is close to my heart and the words that flow below may be highly biased from that perspective.

Aarohanam is the story of a mother who leaves home or the story of two children in search of their lost mother – depending on how you look at it. Nirmala goes missing one day, setting her children – a daughter who is preparing for her weddingin 10 days and a school-going teenage son – in search of her amidst fatigue, panic and restlessness. The film goes back and forth the lives of the family, their travails and troubles.

Nirmala is seen as a woman of strange behaviour – she gets angry too often, her actions are out of her control during such phases, saami aadifies, leaves home, hurts herself, is even suicidal. Unable (or unwilling) to deal with this, her husband abandons her and her children to live with another woman. Nirmala does random jobs to bring up her children.

Her behaviour is seen through the eyes of various people. Her husband, for one, thinks she is mad. He beats her, drags her home when she runs away once, has no faith in her and does nothing to help her. There is a scene where in the police station, her son tells the police officer that she sells vegetables for a living and the husband retorts with “ava ovvoru naal ovvoru velai seiva saar. Dhidirnu idli kadai poduva, insurance agenta velai paappa. Kuppai kuda porukkuva”. Also adds “iva yaarodayum otthu poga maatta”. The husband displays absolute indifference to her behaviour – almost as if he wants to have nothing to do with it.

The children, even though are the most affected by her, stay by her side. They are embarrassed, troubled, hurt but hang around anyway. The son is more expressive in his embarrassment than the daughter but they are both affected profoundly. The scene in which Nirmala burns her hand because her son came home with his father (who had abandoned her) is a heart-wrenching piece of story telling. The sheer fear in the eyes of the children and their surrender to doing anything just so their mother wouldn’t hurt herself is shattering.

The landlord and his wife, the Muslim couple are the charitable elders in her life. They see her as a troubled child, as if the world is conspiring against her and she needs to be protected. The landlady takes care of Nirmala’s children while she is away at work, they lend her money, give her advice when she is depressed and shoo her husband away when he is troubling her. They support her in their own little way and help her stand on her own. The scene where the neighbourhood doubts Nirmala’s ability to conduct her business successfully, the landlady says, “ava thane poi bank padi yeri saamarthiyama loan vaangi irukka”. The landlady plays the role of a mother to a troubled child.

Sandhya, the rich businesswoman sees Nirmala’s behaviour as a relief in some way. She thinks Nirmala is better off because she has a vent for her emotions that Sandhya herself did not have – a classic grass is always greener on the other side scenario.

For Nirmala, this was a rather normal life. She has no idea why her anger reaches unmanageable levels – she thinks she has been wronged and it is only natural to behave that way. The scene in front of the children’s school where she waves a knife at someone who (claims to have) helped her is one such incident. Her life swings between extreme anger, happiness, pride and depression.

Just for the sake of logistics, I have no idea why that MLA character is there in the film. That song at the end of the film is too long for comfort that you just sit around and wait for it to be over and the story be told. The beginning scenes where Sandy and Jay talk about their lives and how Jay gave up her singing career (?) because she had to take care of family is force-fitted. So is that piece in the song that Jay sings. If this is meant to be about the three ladies and their lives, it doesn’t come across as that. The last pep talk that the Doctor gives about Nirmala’s high energy is strange.

All said, Nirmala’s is a moving story. Her lonely struggle against the world (perhaps made up in her mind by her bipolar disorder) is painful. What’s more emotional is the story of the daughter (elder) and the son who try to cope with her in spite of it all. This story had to be told – for psychological problems aren’t at the tip of the Maslow’s pyramid.

Alex Pandiyan: Deeper than you think!

 

When I tweeted this from the theatre after watching the film, someone I know asked me “why do you watch these movies in the first place?” #NyaayamaanaKelvi 

Now that I’ve watched the film, I must say that much of the criticism the film has been getting is unwarranted. I believe it is politically motivated and therefore I take a strong stand to tell you, my reader, that Alex Pandiyan is deeper than you think!

Innovative story line

To begin with, this film has a very ulaga-thiraippadangalil-mudhan-muraiyaaga based story line. Who in the history of Tamil cinema has kidnapped the CM’s daughter? Which CM has got disloyal secretary, commissioner, religious guru etc.? Which heroine in Tamil cinema has falling in love with the kidnapper? Which hero has uyira-panayam-vechu saved the heroine? Many films, you say? Okay. Let me ask you some more questions.

Which heroine has said to the villain, “unakku dhairiyam irundha avar kayatha avuthu vittu adida. Nee ambalai nu othukkaren“? Which hero has toppled a Tata Sumo with an aruvaal? Which mother has ennai thechu kulippaatti uttufied a stranger? Who makes a profession out of allowing his kaalai maadu to mate pasu maadus in the village? Conviced? I thought you’d be. Moving on.

Naatukku thevaiyaana nalla karuthukkal!

You see, we argue time and again that cinema has a great impact on culture. Then we show our people all sorts of nonsense. But Suraj has taken it upon himself (along with the music director, lyricist and every one, of course) to give the perfect advice to a girl who has vayasukku vandhufied and is being publicly paraded. Watch that video and tell me if you don’t agree. I will debate you till my last breath about it!

Maanam kaakkum magaa Annan!

Santhaanam plays the role of a perfect elder brother. He is the role model for the elder brothers of today playing protector, care-taker and provider- all in one. One 70% of the film is about Santhaanam *saving* his three sisters from the predator that is Karthi! At one point, the Amma character only comes to a level where Santhaanam has to protect her.

In the process of this protection, there are many many mutthaana karutthukkal the female future generation of the Tamilnaad is in dire need of! For example, “ponnum pori urundaiyum onnu. Adha badhrama paathukkanum. Namuthu pochu boni aagave aagaadhu.” He adds, “ungala boni panra varaikkum konjam namuthu pogaama irunga ma”.

Life need not have any purpose

While we are all sitting around trying to figure out what is the purpose of our living on the earth, Suraj makes a rather philosophical point in his own absurdist style. He shows in his film that there need not be a purpose for people to enter or exit a film (and by extension, life).

Take that Saravanan’s character for example. He does nothing for the furtherance of the film. In fact, his brother who gets motta adichufied, Prathap Pothan, Milind Soman, Suman, Visu, his wife character, Santhanam’s three sisters and mother, Santhanam, Anushka, Karthi – none of them do anything for the furtherance of the story. And I strongly believe this is Suraj’s way of reiterating what Nietzsche (is believed to have) said: A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

Love knows no boundaries

There is this one last thought I want to leave you with. I believe is my responsibility to detangle Suraaj’s masterfully woven message about love. Love knows no boundaries, love has no reason and love has no logic. Love happens and no one knows why, how, who or even what the fu(k! *Three* *sisters* fall in love with a *stranger* who their mother has saved from the riverside. They love him so much they play (something like) dikkilona in the house with him (along with very many other #haun games).

Then, the CM’s daughter falls in love with a *drunken* *homeless* *nari biriyani eating* *wayward* *on bail* who kidnapped her *for money* because he saves her from dying while she jumps off a cliff. My only regret here is that Prathap Pothen did not have a heroine. That would have been the proverbial last nail on the coffin!

Thuppaki – shot dead

Please read disclaimer before reading this post – if you haven’t already.

Thuppaakki is the story of a Tamil speaking army man on a holiday saving Mumbai from Islamic terrorists from the north west of India (while he also is looking to be married).

Army > Police

For comic value or otherwise, the film talks more times than can be ignored about the greatness of the army over the police. In jest by Sathyan or in all seriousness by the villain who says ‘the only place we don’t have a sleeper cell in the country is the Indian army’. Subtly too, the 12 men on a holiday from the army, shoot out 12 sleeper cell terrorists in some of the most popular places in Mumbai. The state police are able to only find out that all the men shot are terrorists (because they all had explosives) and have no clue who shot them. The film ends with “army thaan da perusu” like that was meant to be the moral of the story.

Army can do whatever they want

Some army men come into the city, possess guns, torture people (terrorists apparently) by chopping off their fingers, shoot people down in some of the most crowded areas, make plastic bombs with the explosives admittedly brought to the city through influence, attempt to conduct suicide missions, blow up ships and all sorts of such things. The point here is not the logic of any of this, mind you, but the blind portrayal of almost criminal activity by military men as acceptable – in fact sacrificial. That whole sequence with Jayaram in it: The lesser said about it, the better.

Modern, physically strong, outspoken women are now desirable

There is a love track – the hero chasing the heroine and her chasing him in return. She is first seen as the ideal Tamil girl – long hair, short smile, politeness and all that. The hero ‘rejects’ her because he wants a modern, outspoken girl. Turns out she is a boxer (who is hurt punching a two-wheeler mirror – but that’s a different story), wears micro minis, goes partying and slaps her father (since when is the opposite of ‘adakkam’?). When the hero finds her out, he falls in love.

Now she ‘rejects’ him. Then she looks at her very-good-looking-during-college-days-friend marry a bald man and decides that she should cling on to Jagadish (Vijay of course) because he is both handsome and successful – because that’s how love happens for women? Anyway, when they do go out, none of her modern-ness or boxing skills help save the city from terrorism. So basically, she could have been done away with.

In essence

As @rathna_k was saying on Twitter, this is just 7 Aum Arivu with terrorists from the north west wearing scarves around their heads, reading urdu scripts, praying before killing, have names such a Mohammad/ Arif/ Ali etc. The same rhetoric of sacrifice, fighting (violently) for the country (which is now India because the hero lives in Mumbai), black and white of right and wrong etc. There is also nokkuvarmam – if only as a mention in a song.

Barfi

I keep saying this. The point of this blog is not to see how technically advanced a film is or how it flows into the artistic style of the director’s past work. I abstain from writing about these things perhaps because I don’t know enough. What I aim to do is bring to your notice what I see as clandestine rhetoric that perpetuates status quo and oppresses any new line of thought.

In that context, Barfi must have been one of those films that shatters status quo and introduces the viewer to alternate perspectives about disability and relationships. I am not sure it succeeds though.

Barfi can neither hear nor speak. He is a small town simpleton with not-so-materialistic ambitions and an understanding of happiness that comes from within. He is all pranks and is said to be loved by all of Darjeeling. He falls in love (at first sight) with Shruti and woos her – apparently showing her freedom and unconditional love (which she did not see where she is from). Shruti’s mother enacts a scene from ‘The Notebook’ and convinces her not to marry Barfi. Shruti goes to to become Mrs. Sengupta – later to realise that she is in a relationship that has words but no meaning or soul (as against the one with meaning but no words – she could have had with Barfi).

Jhilmil Chatterjee is an autistic young girl living in Muskaan (what looks like a home for the disabled). She doesn’t speak much either; she makes beautiful birds from paper, does not like people touching her and most importantly (for the story to go forward) inherits all of her family’s wealth.

While one is savouring the joy that the innocence of Barfi and Jhilmil shower on us, there is a plot of kidnap and ransom-demanding that pokes itself in. Barfi kidnaps Jhilmil (among other people), writes a ransom note, takes the money from Jhilmil’s father all in an attempt to save his own father who is suffering from a kidney disease. But you see – someone who is supposed to be innocent and joyful getting himself tangled into kidnap does not seem cute to me anymore.

Entangled in this mess is also Jhilmil who can hardly understand what’s going on around her. She trusts her long-time friend Barfi who has in fact kidnapped her for money. They both grow fond of each other that Barfi perceives as love. I say “Barfi perceives” because I am not convinced Jhilmil understands this completely. They run away to Kolkata and seek to live normal lives. Shruti returns to Barfi’s life as Mrs. Sengupta ending up making Jhilmil jealous who goes back to Muskaan (for security/ peace/ familiarity?).

Is the kidnap, alcoholic mother, drowning-in-debt father written as a contrast for the innocent, harmless, genuine, child-like Jhilmil? Is the rich, hard working, urban, Mr. Sengupta a contrast for Barfi? Why couldn’t Shruti have married a rich, hard working, urban man who is also loving, caring, romantic, compassionate and considerate? Aren’t the same problems of black and white characters continuing here? As Shruti’s mother also asks in this film – who says love only happens once? It happened twice to Barfi!

I am still confused about the marriage of the autistic Jhilmil. When she could not comprehend kidnap, how does she comprehend marriage, wedding ceremonies and the relationship (albeit platonic)? What is the love based on?

If the film is to present to the audiences a new perspective on love, happiness, joy, relationships, trust and marriage – well, there is of course merit to the attempt. But it is far from convincing. There is a strange sense of disconnect – from the narrative, the characters, the message we are meant to perceive.

Footnote

Direction: Joseph Cedar

Featuring: Shlomo Bar-Aba and Lior Ashkenazi

Footnote is an Israeli film about a father and a son – both in the Talmud department of the Hebrew University. The father is a researcher following traditional research methods – hard-working, meticulous and perseverant. The son, on the other hand, is modern, publishes without being entirely sure, is sociable and highly appreciated. The father doesn’t take his son’s successes too well.

To understand the film in its entirety, one must have some knowledge about Talmud research or at least Judaism and its texts. When you don’t understand the literature, the film is a blindfolded ride through complex dynamics of this father-son relationship of envy, rage, sympathy, irreverence, fear and love (that is much considering the father is said to be autistic).

The father is proud and the son is sacrificial (more out of the fear of breaking the family). The father is contemptuous of his son’s research but the son is sympathetic of his father’s work. The father publicly calls his son an empty vessel but the son attributes all his successes to the father. In spite of the father being portrayed as the pompous guy, I felt for the father more than the son – almost as if he was wronged by the world (of research and rivalry).

The women characters in the film are very interesting. There is the typical mother – hosting guests, folding up the newspaper, protecting the son and spreading love. There is the son’s wife – whose job is to be a mother (for the grandson) and she even refuses to do it right. Then there is this girl who submits a research paper that is beyond bad and a journalist who is said to be amateurish.

The film’s ending haunts you with its openness leaving you contemplating for a long while after the film what the father will do with the prize (knowing fully well he was awarded it at the mercy of his son). You are wondering if you know the father well enough to conclude that he will arrogantly refuse acceptance – or bury his wisdom and take the prize he waited decades for.

In essence, footnote is the story of a bunch of convoluted relationships that the director leaves you to untangle in your own time. Well played, indeed.

Saguni – will turn in his grave

(Lack of) Direction: Shankar Dayal (Sharma – as Kalaignar TV just called him)

Featuring: Karthi, Santhanam, Pranitha, Prakash Raj, Nasser, Roja, Radhika, Kiran, Kota Srinivasa Rao mattrum palar

Political thriller (was it?)

Our politics begins and ends with electoral politics. So, Boopathi is a cruel-mindless-evil politician (played rather convincingly by Prakash Raj) who doesn’t think twice about murder, theft, inducing riots or even wickedly eliminating competition. There is no good side to him. He is evil and is going to ruin Tamilnadu for his personal benefit.

One victim of this politician’s pursuit of personal benefit is Kamalakannan (Karthi, the hero) who wants to retain *his* property and stall the construction of an underground subway/ underpass. There is an explanation about how he has been wronged. But in essence, this is the *struggle* of a man who refuses to let go of his *personal property* for infrastructure development of the state.

From there, he uses his brains, sends Santhaanam to jail, manipulates a saamiyaar, starts wearing glasses, becomes a *king maker* and establishes the *right* rule *for the people*.

Common man at politicians’ mercy

Like every other political film that Tamil cinema makes (Dhool, Ko etc. being examples), the common man (of course not the hero, you dud) is always at the mercy of these high and mighty politicians. Saguni, being the story of a *king maker* only accentuates the lack of public participation in *king making*. With this being very close to real life, I don’t know if it (the realistic representation in the film, I mean) is a good thing or bad.

Women power

This is the most bothersome part of the film for me (it is a feminist’s blog. What exactly were you expecting?) The film has unnecessarily many female characters – but I am going to bring up each of them and discuss (of course).

The eye candy lot

There is Sridevi (the hero is named Kamal, you see?) who dances in foreign locations, looks pretty, uses the hero to protect her against miscreants but later ignores him on instructions of her mother. We could have done without her. But you see, the film is all talk about her (love) – so one number heroine has to be shoved on us. And on the hero in the last scene.

Then there is Anushka and Andrea just to hype up our hero (Oh-my-god-he-is-so-desirable)! Even Rajini Appadurai (Santhaanam, as you’d have guessed) has a *jodi* who ignores him when he is a driver but is impressed with him when he becomes the Mayor’s PA (the job that he got on the recommendation of Kamal who has the Mayor on speed dial. There is no hint that he is even qualified for the job. Anyway, the woman isn’t looking for any such thing, is she now?)

The family lot

The atthai (Roja) is a selfish woman who takes her share of property and leaves for the city when the others in her family are giving away everything they have for *feeding* the poor. She uses her nephew (?) as a driver and throws him out when the job is done.

Devadharshini appears in one scene and weeps for the death of her parents (though plays no role in avenging or even seeking justice for it).

Then the political lot

There is this role played by Kiran – an ambitious woman who wants to make it big in politics. She is dressed in sexy sarees and appears as Boopathi’s set up. She displays no intelligence, finesse, political ability or even just independent thinking. She is Boopathi’s puppet, just sometimes being an annoying woman who could be eliminated (which Boopathi attempts later in the film).

There is Ramani Akka (so much for Radhika playing this role) who goes from idli kadai to kandhu vaddi vasool rani to Mayor. If you’re convinced that is a common woman’s guide to an empire, hear me out. She makes no decision on her own – she is asked to contest in elections by Kamalakannan and she does so. He plans her election campaign and gives her the *out-of-the-box idea* of distributing cricket bats to voters’ children (as bribe, of course). He stops her while she is about to withdraw her candidature in return for money. She is also a puppet. She is mightier because she is the hero’s puppet. That is all. Kamal, however, goes as far as to use her for his personal benefit (of saving his house, #youremember). She becomes the Mayor because the Mayorship this tenure is *reserved* for a *woman* and she is the only woman councillor in Chennai. She implements his plans to demolish the property that may belong to the CM. So on and so forth.

In short

~      The first half is unnecessary – so is most of the second half.

~      There is no logic to most of what happens in the film nor there is any meaning.

~      Santhanam is funny – Karthi not so much (there is a scene where he says “thanni, kanni, su….” and waits only to complete that with soodhu. Sigh).

~      (Personal) good wins over evil

~      People dump money on Saamiyaars even if they were sitting around smoking beedi

~      Political thriller, my foot!

Further reading

I hear from people very often that my reviews tend to be biased and (unreasonably) negative. So, I’ve decided to also put up some links from other reviewers. Here are some other reviews I read today. Will update when blog reviews come up.

Pavithra Srinivasan – Rediff

Bharadwaj Rangan – The Hindu

Romal M Singh – DNA (positive review. lol)

Kanasemba Kudureyaneri – I’m not the only one!

Direction: Girish Kasaravalli
Written by: Amaresh Nudgoni, Girish Kasaravalli
Featuring: Vyjanath Biradar, Umashree, Sadashiv Brahmavar

The film won National award for Best Feature Film in Kannada and for Best Screenplay.

After college (at MIC, Manipal), I’ve not seen a Kannada film, that’s in over 5 years. Even in college, the only two Kannada films I remember watching were ‘Dweepa’ and ‘Hasina’. All along, trying to brush aside the beautiful nostalgia attached to Kasaravalli’s films in my life, I sat down to watch Kanasemba Kudureyaneri.

The film is about dreams – Rudri’s, her husband Irya’s and one that is theirs. The dreams are intertwined in the superstitions of the villagers, the materialism of a son, the death of a father and the stench of his dead body. Going back and forth in time, Girish takes us through the culture and belief systems of a village full of people.

Irya is a gravedigger. He dreams of the death of a man in the village and believes that to be true – so he takes off to dig his grave. When he is told that there is no death in the village, he is left devastated.

Rudri – his wife – dreams of Siddha’s arrival and she prepares a lavish meal for him. When he doesn’t arrive, she is also heart broken.

Back and forth, in two days, we see capitalism, poverty, ignorance, self-sufficiency, agriculture vs. industry, and many meaningful arguments weaved subtly into a realistic story. The beauty of the film of course is in the hope with which he ends the film. The cynic in me wants to diss it as romanticising real problems, but Girish leaves me with Rudri and Irya’s dream of cultivating barren land in the hope of a better life.

Afterall, aren’t dreams all we’ve got!