Friday, July 6, 2007

Thalaiva Vazhga!

First, the facts, which we will examine, gently even, with powdered latex gloves and tweezers that no one really knows are used for what, or cares. Or wants to know I suppose, in light of latex glove revelation. Ah so, without further ado.

Fact: I have seen Sivaji 5 times – and no, not under captivity.
Fact: I whistled, cheered, hooted and threw ticket confetti in air when Superstar Rajni delivered punch dialogue.
Fact: I delivered punch dialogue
Fact: I delivered punch. (This be accidental tho. Over-excitement during fight scene)
Fact: I capitalize Superstar AND Rajni.
Fact: I plan to watch Sivaji again. And drag friends. And translate punch dialogues for the benefit of non-tamil speaking companions.
Fact: I cursed obscenities at slightly balding, middle-aged man sitting in the next chair the last time I saw the film.

Ok so I gripped him by the collar and called him a bleddy ayogya rascal country brute. But in all fairness, I was really just rather vociferously exclaiming my slight disregard for the baddies, and balding middle-aged guy being in the path of least resistance, got, for lack of a better word, whoop-assed.

Hi. My name is Lavanya and I am a Rajni fanatic. This is when we all hug each other and cry. *whips out cigarette mittai and throws into air, which then flips three times and lands – gracefully even – in delicate rosebud shaped lips* To paraphrase a great man… Owww eez eet?

How did this happen – as some of my friends have asked. Actually they’ve been rather vocal in their lack of understanding at my seemingly intellectually-impaired decision. As one friend so eloquently put it – you bleddy mad. *taps side of head*

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defense would like to present its case.

First of all, Sivaji is a good film. In fact, it’s a brilliant film. To put it another way… which makes you wonder about the circular redundancy of the phrase, first you plan to reiterate an already stated and accepted conclusion, and you announce the arrival of said redundancy with redundant phrase. Why would you want to put something another way anyway? Just get it right the first time. Idiot. To put it another way, is probably the most redundant and completely useless phrase in the English language. Right after, Hi I am calling from 1C1C1C1C1 bank would you like a credit card? And then a buttfuck? Preferably in that order?

But I digress. To put it another way, for the second time, it’s got…Ishtyle. And loads of it.
If I were snooty reviewer smoking clove cigars and peering over hideously expensive horn-rimmed glasses at laptop, I’d say the film possessed a certain stylistic superiority quite surpassing that of its predecessors. Not unlike Tarantino’s masterful rendition of old-style martial arts films in Kill Bill, where a 6 foot blonde in a yellow jumpsuit fends off the crazy kung-fu 88 – some of them in black and white – replete with tubes of blood spurting out of decapitated bodies. Ah, what craft. What a supremely fine balance he strikes between artistic reinvention and collapsing into a parody. Bravo. *gently claps well-manicured hands and scattering clove ashes in the process*

Sivaji thus, in the same vein and ruptured blood vessel, takes the entire class of ‘superstar’ full-action-masala-flick and goes above and beyond the confines of the genre it was meant to occupy. For something commonly known as the all encompassing B(K/T)ollywood extravaganza, recent fare has fallen somewhat shamefully below the mark. With Sivaji though, it once again straddles the line between comedy and action. And drama. And mass entertainment. And visual extravaganza. And… in short. Ishtyle ma ishtyle.

A word to all the hoity toity la di da types who think superstar antics and punch dialogues and the like are far too juvenile a pursuit to be enjoyed by anyone over the age of two or anyone in fact in full control of his higher faculties… actually I have two words for them, but respect for decorum dictates I restrain myself… so we shall settle instead for a semantically correct phrase thrown in the general direction of said la-di-da’s.

There is a reason we have a man who can fling a cigarette butt four feet into the air, have it land in his mouth and have an entire packed theatre of a thousand-odd otherwise perfectly respectable people go ballistic as he lights up. Beyond of course, the stylistic simplicity of the elegantly coordinated action, there is the fact, that it is actions like these – flinging of cigarette butts, rapid criss-crossing of legs, quick flick of the wrist and repositioning of thundu, or as in the latest case, the rather complex mechanism of flipping a coin/popping a peppermint into one’s mouth or rapid run of fingers over his baldpate – that will be repeated time and again at every tea-stall, every cool-bar, every footpath bench across the land for years to come. It doesn’t even matter what it is as long as it’s quick, it’s dramatic, and it’s got, you guessed it, ishtyle. On a sidenote, kudos to Shankar for replacing the iconic cigarette-butt flick with something a little more health-friendly.

Exhibit Two: Songs, sets and costumes. Songs are the inescapable evil of tamil movies; like death and taxes. Its not a question of, do we needs songs, so much so as it is, so how do we dispense with the procedure as quickly and painlessly as possible? There is of course the very practical consideration of the general viewing public needing a window – figuratively speaking of course – to go answer calls of nature, cigarette breaks etc. A five-minute song provides the perfect respite during the three-four hour long ordeal. In the past it is believed filmmakers traditionally made their songs as unimaginably awful as possible and their costumes so outlandishly garish as to induce even the most dehydrated individuals to visit the state-of-the-art bathroom facilities, which consisted of little more than a hole in the ground. This in turn fueled sales of overpriced aerated drinks and century-old fungus-infused popcorn during the mandatory twenty minute break from all that fatigue of being bombarded by visions of singing men in tight pants and white shoes jumping around trees chasing women suffering from a severe case of visible panty line disease. Now you understand why you suffered through all those waterfall/torrential rain song sequences? Oh the horror.

In short, songs were a necessary evil – part of a larger plot by MNCs and snack and beverages makers to pry hard-earned Indian rupees from white-knuckled clutching fingers of the unsuspecting suffering masses. Sets and costumes were as important a part of the film, as ceiling fans are in engineering colleges the nation over – purely for show, and absolutely no thought whatsoever gone into its actual purpose and function in the grand scheme of things. How else can one explain Telugu movies? Unless of course the entire Telugu speaking community happen to be color-blind in addition to hearing-impaired. Needless to say, ishtyle is a phenomenon least understood in golt land. Probably all the gonkura gone to their brain.

Thankfully, this not being a Telugu film, I did not have to suffer a brain hemorrhage while watching it. Sets and costumes, normally falling under either the tolerable-but-boring or ridiculously-hilarious category, were pretty decent. Songs were good, not mind-blowing, but enjoyable and definitely hummable. Sets were a visual feast. Every detail, every object in the frame, insignificant as it was, was taken care of and the effort definitely showed. Costumes were a spectacular treat, down to the minutest sequined details on Rajni’s 3 inch thick belt. Over the top? Yes. Outlandish? Yes. Ridiculous? Yes yes yes, all of that. But! That be the magick of a Rajni flick. To be all of that, and to still draw you into its story and characters and have you cheering and hooting all the way to the end credits.

Exhibit Three: Dialogues and superstar-masala-flick elements. Read: pandering to the lowest common denominator and/or mass entertainment aspects. You’d think it stands to reason that if one were looking at a movie from a purely commercial aspect, throwing in a generous dash of crowd-puller, item number and mass-entertainer bits and the like would invariably lead to a dip in overall story-telling impact. Not so. One of the good things about Sivaji is that there is no vulgarity or blood and gore violence – a rare, well-deserved U rating for the certified ‘family movie’. All necessary superstar-masala-flick bits – punch dialogues, fight sequences, basic storyline and plot, essential characters – have been tastefully incorporated into this mad celebration of the quintessential superstar masala movie. I did find the Angavai/Sangavai/Pongavai sequence a tad insensitive, but that’s my only gripe with an otherwise funtastic roller-coaster of a ride.

Hilarious dialogues and light, humorous comedy sequences. Essential snarling and frothing at mouth by necessary sub-characters. Yes, strips of paper from nowhere fly all over the place when our hero walks in. Yes, his hair – I still haven’t figured out HOW they got him to look the way he did. Brilliant stuff – flies about oh so elegantly at just the right, dramatic moments. Yes, he has the ability to bend space and time and single-handedly overturn five hundred odd years of math and science and the basic principles of physics and everything our understanding of the universe is modeled on. But really. Who cares? This be an epitome of The Rajni Movie. Bleddy sheddup and watch. Rascal.

Exhibit Four: Special effects and other odds and ends. Special effects are, for the most part at least, seamlessly crafted into the film. Fight sequences fairly entertaining, tad longish in parts, but overall quickly executed and never monotonous or tedious. Dance routines, rapid-paced and stylistically rendered. Pure fun and energy, more than anything, which is why when our man Superstar Rajnikanth stops a bullet with his glance, or throws a gun that boomerangs, shoots his victim and returns to palm, or throws off fifty odd baddies piled on top of his back without breaking a sweat, one can’t help being sucked into the whole mad over-the-top affair and whistling one’s head off. Hey, if I can clap for a wooden-faced leather clad sunglassed Keanu Reeves fending off a hundred Agent Smiths, I figured I might as well go crazy here.

And finally, the final and most important element of the defendant’s argument… here is a movie that is quite simply, fun. Forget sets, costumes, songs, dialogues, cinematic grandeur, mass-entertainment elements, socially-conscious message, cast, crew everything… at its core, is something undeniably enjoyable: pure, simple fun. Every song, every flick of the wrist, every punch delivery is infused with the light-hearted reverie that Rajni is known and loved for. But going beyond the obvious star of the film, there isn’t one person here who doesn’t make an impact with his presence. Right from the top, main hero and baddy and sidekicks, down to the poor musical-instrument buyer or the Angavai-Sangavai twins, memorable performances all. What a relief to watch a fun, jam-packed, energetic film – and performances – that doesn’t get weighed down by its own self-importance.

Ah but then again, one can simply say, tis a simple story: riches to rags to riches again, and along the way, boy meets girl, defeats baddie, saves world from itself, boy wins girl and all the sidekicks live happily ever after in eerily dust-free buildings. Tis not rocket science, true. But surprising how even overly simplistic movies tend to take themselves too seriously and end up becoming a gloriously bloated weep/preach fest for the miserable paying public. Bollywood extravaganza indeed. Where have all the good Superstar films gone? Kudos and more to Sivaji for converting this staunch-superstar-flick averse movie-goer into a born-again fanatic.
Now that the snooty reviewer in me has artfully deconstructed the Sivaji phenomenon, the defense would like to rest its case and go stand in line to purchase another ticket. Or to put it another way.

Summa adurudhullai!

Oww eez it?