Saturday, July 10, 2010

Vintage Madras

Madharasapattinam – Review

Period films are not a usual fare in the Tamil milieu. If we can survey the entire annals of our cinema, we would most likely end up with less than 20 pieces. History as history films like "Siraichaalai" and "Iruvar", Biopics like "Periyar", "Bharathi" and "Kamaraj", Period fictions like "Hey Ram" and “Kanchivaram” are some of the "serious" period flicks that we had. Films like "Vaaranam Aayiram" and "Subramaniapuram" used the period settings only as a part of their narrative veins. And, (with no disrespect to the film, per se) “Subramaniapuram” only required 80s Ilayaraja songs on loud speakers and the cinema wall posters of "Kaali" and "Murattu Kaalai", to evoke a period sense. The most recent of the list, Cheran's "Pokkisham" (2009) is a very important work from Madharasapattinam's point- of-view, because it shares a lot of similarities (in terms of the plot) with "Pokkisham".

Genre - This is not a "patriotic" film that is going to preach you those "truisms of Nationalism" and offer those goosebump moments. This is romance and romance only set in a different period, as India was getting ready for her "tryst with destiny". Even as the whole country was devotionally chanting "Vande Maataram" and "Bharat mata ki jai" on the night of 14th August - 1947, the protagonist is actually running for his love & life and for that of his ladylove.

The storyline - is not blasphemically novel. A Brit lady (daughter of the governor) falls in love with a tamil washerman, as she visits the pre-independent India (Madharas). All those obstacles and impediments for her love from her cruel and un-understanding parents - 100% present, her engagement with a Brit Nobleman - No doubts, In place. Secret meetings and troubles with communication - naturally present. Inspite of so much cliches, the movie definitely appeals and engages you. And, like “Titanic” - the movie opens on the present-day life of a british old lady and narrates into a flash back from her Point-of-view.

The seamless narrative structure is something I liked so much. Its definitely not a "love-at-first-sight" between Parithi (Arya) and Amy (Amy Jackson) - the first half of the movie was so loooong even for the Indian cinema standards, almost 100 minutes. Ample time and a good number of scenes were spent to register that they were in love. The second half features an interesting and racy chase sequence, as Parithi and Amy elope to escape from a whole police battalion - very professionally done. Parithi is also a "Kusthi" expert and there's a particular scene featuring a "one-on-one" combat with a English police officer. It is definitely a scene (or the only scene) that very well feeds our Anti-British instincts.

Cast - Arya is the post-"Naan Kadavul" fella who does act. I always have some problems with his tamil deliverance (but, let it be with me only) and it was more a "measured" performance - Not great. Amy Jackson is beautiful and immaculate, personifies innocence. wow, what a graceful screen presence she holds ! .. Special note - for the "Aaruyire" song, she does some amazing lip-syncs with the lyrics. The support cast is again amazing - hosts a good variety of characters. The "Kusthi" teacher (Nasser) and "school" teacher, Parithi's friend-faction, his sister, the English officials - all deliver. Nasser (Is there a character on the planet that he can't do) and Cochin Hanefa (who died as the movie was being shot) deserve a special mention.

Period - The film is set to happen at Chennai of the yesteryears, circa 1945 to 1947. The Art director should be very thankful to the film's producer who should be gracious enough in sanctioning all the finance, that Madharas in all its ancient pristine glory is brought live on screen. The Tram vehicles, coovam (the actual clean canal in which boating was possible then), the washermen "thurai", vintage cars and guns, policemen's uniforms etc - the period props were all in place. Even "Sudhesa Mithran" newspaper carrying the news of India's independence was used.

The conversations were written in a way that encompasses the spirit and culture of the period. Japan's bombing of Madras (1942) and Netaji's death in a plane crash etc, are covered across everyday colloquial conversations of the people. One thing that kept me thinking was the absence of the "Dravida naadu demand" during the period, by the Dravidian politicians Periyar and C.N.Annadurai in the movie. While I completely admit that it will have no room in the script, I just wanted to register my preoccupation with these ideas, at the cinema hall.

Vijay, the director - proves that he's got some "serious" talent - after "remaking" the scripts (that should have been "alien" to him) two times before, he comes up with his "original" work and does it laudably. While at the cinema hall, you can't really avert your mind lingering back to tested blockbusters like "Titanic" and "Lagaan", yeah - "Pokkisham" also. But, the good part is that, it doesn't last long. I was actually happy in attributing this "reminiscence" to the commercial popularity of the above ventures and would like to grant the whole credit to Vijay. With the kind of professionalism portrayed by him with respect to the "handling" of the script, you can actually say, Vijay should have consciously tried (with his film making) manipulating the audience that he is really not inspired by the above films.

G.V.Prakash Kumar matures as a composer. His BGM and scores for the songs were definitely admirable. Nirav Shah is awesome yet again – captures the period with “that” special eye. Indian Cinema will always be oozing with master cinematographers !

The film is not completely devoid of flaws - there are a good number of stereotypes in characterization, coupled with hackeneyed & predictable scenes. Computer Graphics (CG) used in certain places expose themselves that they are not "real" and are "engineered" by Graphics professionals. The period props falter at certain junctures such as, the "fresh" black and white paintings on the platforms and zebra crossings. Add to them, Arya can't speak good tamil but thankfully there's no lengthier chunks of dialogues that he has to recite. But, you only wish to forgive them all and admire all the hard work that has gone into the conceptualization and production. Must watch !

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