Will this “Kamal” bloom in TN?

In his films, Kamal Haasan is not usually satisfied with wearing one hat or donning just one role. While his peers in the Industry were happy with double roles or at best triple roles, Kamal, in one of his own production – Dasavathaaram as the title suggests, took up 10 roles. And roles as varied from an elderly widow to a Sardar to a CIA Agent to a Japanese Ninja and even George Bush! So donning many roles comes to him easily. In the big screen, that is. However, I don’t recall Kamal playing the role of a full-fledged politician in any of the films but for that short gimmicky role as George Bush and I may be wrong here!!! So, it came as a surprise when all of a sudden from the year 2017, Kamal started making political noises initially as feeble as tweets! Gradually the tweets got louder culminating with the announcement of the formation of his own party this week in Madurai.

Surprise stems from not just this. Kamal has had a long and worthy career in films not just as a fantastic actor but also as an accomplished film-maker in Tamil Nadu. Unlike many other stars and also rans in TN who invariably ended up in politics, Kamal stayed far away from it. He has been repeatedly saying that the only thing he knows in life is films and nothing else but films. He is quoted to have said often that he has been extremely fortunate in life for getting “Karumbu thinna kooli”, a euphemism for having been possible to pursue his passion as a paid profession! And he is also quoted as being unfit for life in politics full of machinations and hypocrisies. While he claimed to be socially aware, he was happy to serve people in his own way rather than wearing the garb of a Neta.

Actors who take up politics seriously, do it in their twilight of their career when the lights around them start fading away. Though Kamal’s last few films failed miserably at the box office, as an actor or a film-maker few would dare to write his obituary yet. He still displays the passion for making meaningful cinema and as we speak, has 2 if not 3 films on the floor vying for his attention.

The sudden turn in Kamal’s life led to the forming of Makkal Neethi Maiam (Centre for Justice for people) early this week. In the last few months of twists and turns in the politics of “Turmoil Nadu”, this is the latest. As a film-maker he is known to be indulgent. He has also been an avid risk taker in the choice of some of his scripts. At many points he has risked his wealth and probably his career by throwing his weight behind risky subjects – his Vishwaroopam project being a prime example. So, the question is – “Is Kamal once again indulging himself and taking his biggest risk yet by jumping into the murky world of politics?”

It would appear to seem so, if one looks at the odds ahead of Kamal. I believe that for Kamal, there are battles to be fought within, before looking at the battles outside. Kamal has had an Ultra clean image thus far in terms of probity in public life. He is not known for entering into shady deals for the purpose of commerce and has been an honest tax payer. But being honest is only a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition to succeed in politics.  Secondly, as a film star and a film maker he has not displayed enough permanence of purpose. In the sense, he is known to announce grand projects and junk them mid-way and move on.  Cutting losses as a strategy may work in films or business but certainly not in politics where one expects a deeper commitment to a cause. Whether Kamal will show enough resilience to stay put and continue to fight the political battle even if there are initial setbacks is a big question.

As a film-maker he has never hidden his left leanings and public posturing towards atheism. Left as a philosophy is in the ICU worldwide and India is not an exception. Unless his left leanings are more reformed and tuned to the times we are in today, he will find it difficult to move beyond surging crowds in his rallies. Similarly in TN, atheism has of late become a matter of daily WhatsApp humour, thanks to the famed Dravida parties and their leaders reaching out to Gods in private! So, for Kamal to make these personal beliefs cornerstone of ideology of his new party is fraught with imminent risk.

Coming to external battles, there are many and are similar to any new comer trying to make a mark in politics. it is clear that Kamal is trying to fill a gap which presented itself after the death of Jayalalitha and her legacy. If one looks at history, MGR was successful as he could seamlessly morph his fan base into his loyal political base. No other actor in TN so far could manage that feat. Whether even our Superstar Rajini will be able pull that off remains to be seen. In the case of Kamal, in his prime days as an actor he was not a fan of Fan Clubs himself. So, how he will organize and use his Fan Clubs to be part of his political story will determine if the climax will have a happy ending or not!

Kamal has a good marketing bent. That comes across very well the way he has been able to create big hype over some of his films which turned out to be lemons. Hyped up films ending up as duds is not limited to Kamal only.  Just that in the case of Kamal, all the marketing ideas are his and only his. His marketing acumen could be seen through in his party launch event as well. The crowds were impressive. The media attention he could garner was even more impressive. However, I am extremely skeptical if these will lead to more fingers at the EVMs in the next election.

In the event, Kamal was idealism personified. He had Arvind Kejriwal by his side. And Pinnarayi Vijayan by the video link. The irony of the old and new symbols of Communism in his new avatar couldn’t be missed. His party’s flag displayed six hands which apparently were referring to the six southern states including Pondicherry. That showed that Kamal’s political ambitions are not limited to just TN. However what intrigued me was if that is the case, will a Tamil name for the party make sense in Telangana or Karnataka?  He should very well remember that even his Tamil film Indiran Chandran became Indrudu Chandrudu in Telugu!

While it is no denying that Kamal is a well-read man and an idealist with good intentions, his sudden decision to jump into politics raises many questions. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts, is Kamal on the path towards achieving Self Actualisation as per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  It seems Kamal said “Except for the two films which are coming out, there will be no more films for me,” in a recent interview. Well if that’s the case, it will be filmdom’s loss!  And nobody’s gain!

The original “Kamal” in politics of India namely the BJP though successful in other parts of the country is yet to bloom in TN.  Will this new Kamal bloom in Tamil Nadu? I have my own doubts. I have no doubts of Kamal stealing the show in Michael Madana Kama Rajan – II though!

Postscript:  Kamal got his 1st National award for Moondram Pirai, a film in which his co-star Sridevi was expected to walk away with the honours. However she didn’t, much to the disappointment, agony and sorrow of cinema followers in TN. Today, that sorrow pales in comparison to the news of Sridevi’s untimely, sudden and shocking death, 54 vayathinile!  Padma Sri Sridevi – RIP.

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Ilayaraja 1000!!!

Boxing a tribute for a man who just completed a journey of 1000 films as a music composer in my usual limit of 1000 words is going to be tough. Even tougher is going to be the task of choosing from his expansive body of work for driving home a point. So it is with much trepidation, I sit to pen this tribute to the Maestro Ilayaraja, – as per me the best “all around” Indian composer of film music of our times on his 1000th film as a music director. The film Thaarai Thappattai (names of folk percussion instruments) and its maker Bala are indeed lucky to be a part of this milestone.

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For those in their 40’s and 50’s and who grew up in the south of Vindhyas and Tamil Nadu in particular, Ilayaraja (Raja from now on) would have been a fellow traveller in life with his music. Tamil Film music has 2 eras – one before Raja and the other after. For the very discerning and ever critical ears in South India inspite of Raja making waves early, I would say he was on “probation” probably till his 100th film – Moodu Pani.  That was a good 5 years since he made his debut in Annakili. Till then, there was a feeling that though he was good, he was repetitive and can’t see beyond Tharai Thappattai – folk style I mean. But ever since this landmark of 100 films I must say there was no looking back. And as we stepped into the 80’s Raja with his music was like “Narasimha Avatar” – Omnipresent. Thoonilum Irunthar, Thurumbilum Irunthar!!!

Honest Disclosure. I am an unapologetic admirer of Raja’s work. A lot has been said and written about his modest upbringing, his travails as a struggler in Madras,..,… and how he became what he is today. So not going to dwell on those. This piece is entirely going to be on my connection with Raja and his work.

For me the tipping point was Raja’s music in Bharathiraja’s Nizhalgal.  In a middle class household with just a radio to define the entertainment quotient, my first brush with Raja was the Sunday afternoon programme in Trichy AIR called Neengal Kettavai where the top 10 songs of that time were played. I remember many weeks when the entire 10 songs were of Raja’s. Then gradually technology presented many options to be in touch with Raja.  From his initial style of churning rustic tunes and melodies, gradually his repertoire extended to Western Classical melodies, tunes laced with Carnatic scales and other contemporary stuff.

I started this intended hagiography like piece on Raja by saying that he is the best “All around” music composer of our times. His music was melodious at times, haunting at times, chirpy at times, romantic at times, melancholic at times. I am now at a loss of better adjectives. Enough to say that his music went beyond just great songs. Many aspects of his work prove this beyond doubt.

  • Like there is no other composer who can “Value add” to a song situation better than Raja. There are examples galore:
    • In this song from the film Nayagan, the situation is of a duet between the hero and the heroine in happy times. Generally speaking any plain vanilla melodious tune would have done the job. But Raja comes with this peach of a melody – Nee Oru Kaadhal Sangeetham,..(listen here) which conveys the joyous mood between the lovers but with a subtle trepidation. The song moves you to no end and grows on you. Amazing stuff!
    • Another example is this song from Punnagai Mannan. The film opens with this situation I think. 2 Lovers try to spend “quality time” together in a forest kind setting before they call it “Quits” forever. The song is supposed to walk us through this rather traumatic situation. Raja lifts the song situation few notches above with this layered piece Enna satham inda neram,…(listen here)
    • Now look at the very many melodies he churned for plain vanilla duet situations which according to me are equally masterclass – Thendral vanthu ennai thodum,.. or for that matter Vaa Vaa Vaa Kanna Vaa for example.
  • Like Raja’s knack of weaving the story line in the songs. In a sense using the songs to convey a sense of foreboding.
    • If you listen to this song from Moondram PiraiKanne Kalaimane,…. A lullaby song which could have been just that. But Raja (combined with the words of another genius poet Kannadasan) weave a kind of pathos into the lullaby situation and prepare us for what would be coming.
  • Like using a song as a theme in the Background score. Raja is a trail blazer in this.
    • Best example being Then Paandi Seemaiyile,… in Nayagan
    • Another song is Poongaatru thirumbuma, from Mudhal Mariyaadhai.
      • As the film traverses from good times to sad times the mood of the theme song changes.
    • Like being spot on in the choice of singers to suit a particular actor/character/mood.
      • Though those days the choice was limited for singers unlike these days of “Super singers emerging from reality shows” – Raja was canny in his choice. So while he went mostly with SPB/Yesudas for Kamal, It was always SPB for Mohan. And as Rajinikanth transformed from being a villain to an anti – hero to a superstar – Raja also moved from Malaysia Vasudevan to SPB. And he sang himself for the rustic Ramarajan and the likes!
      • When the mood is of sensuousness his call was to Janaki for the female voice. In Idhayathai thirudathey while most of the songs are sung by Chitra the one song (Om Namaha,…) which is a very romantic sensuous number he went with Janaki. By the way this song is another testimony to Point 1 as above.
    • Like Raja being the best in business in India as far as Back ground score is concerned. Apart from his songs, his background score elevates the movie to a different level. I have seen this in many films. But the following examples sort of seal the point.
      • Film is Maniratnam’s Thalapathy. Rajinikanth, Mammooty, Nagesh, Kitty and Arvind Swamy are engaged in a heated argument in Arvind Swamy’s office. Watch this clip. And watch how Raja’s BGM at the end of the scene lifts the drama element of the scene. Best part is for most part of the scene there is no BGM but the timely intervention is what makes it brilliant. This is just pure brilliance.
      • In this very heart rending scene in Kamal’s Apoorva Sagotharargal – it is interesting to see how Raja value adds with his BGM.
      • The Background score in Bhagyaraj’s film – Vidiyum Varai Kaathiru is a case in point where the BGM keeps you on the edge of the seat.
      • Even in his latest outing Tharai Thappattai his BGM is haunting and at the same time outstanding. Watch this.
    • Like without making it obvious, using classical ragas in many of his songs with small tinkering in the scale.

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Can Rajini???

The feeling is almost the same. That feeling when India fails to win inspite of Sachin (or for that matter Kohli now) scoring a masterly century under trying circumstances in a second inning of a test match. Because others fail to do their bit of scoring a few runs required at the end or the bowlers failing to take the wickets in time.  The feeling after watching Lingaa, the latest outing of the “Superstar” was no different.  Rajinikanth in a dual avatar punches above his weight in the film but the story, the script, the director, the music and even the dialogues which lack the usual punch have let him and his fans down badly. Frankly Rajinikanth, coming after an illness which forced him to take a break from movies amazes with his energy and tries to lift the tiringly long movie from ruins. So cannot blame him if the film disappoints his fans but eventually it is his film and so the buck will stop with him I guess. The verdict was clear when my 7 year old daughter who doesn’t get tired of watching the many re-runs of Robot or Shivaji started pestering me as to when the interval would come :(.   Lingaa may still end up being a top grosser at the box office but would not end up in the echelons of Rajini’s best outings.

Most of Rajini’s films in the last 2 decades were based on a central template of “Riches to Rags to Riches (R2R2R)” replete with punch dialogues and other formula items. I hear that Rajini is very careful in giving a go ahead to a script and chooses his director carefully. So when directors gets a chance to make a film with Rajini as the lead, they first consider themselves very lucky. And while directing Rajini, they look at themselves as among his Numero Uno fans first and his “Director” later. So they invariably get conscious of the trappings around Rajini’s image and try their best to stay close to the central theme and the formula.  So whether it is Muthu, Baasha, Annamalai, Arunachalam, Padayappa or even Shivaji they all follow the “Rajini patented R2R2R2” leitmotif. It was a welcome relief to see P.Vasu in Chandramukhi and Shankar in Enthiran (Robot) deviating from the R2R2R theme and still emerging successful.

The question is how long is Rajini or his directors going to flog the same template? As long as it continues to work and rakes in moolah would be the answer I guess. But first with Kochadaiyan and now with Lingaa I feel that the fatigue is setting in. As we saw in Lingaa or for that matter a few years back in Baba (Rajini’s 1st unqualified failure in 25 years) just the Rajini factor may no longer be enough to sustain that Thalaivar aura. The script does play a role. So, what next for Rajinikanth?  As part of the barrage of unsolicited advice he must be getting day in day out, here’s mine.

Looking ahead, he could look at two other people in India who have similar stature and faced similar conundrums in life.

Comparing Rajini’s career with that of Sachin Tendulkar’s may be odious but may be worthwhile. I was always of the opinion that Sachin who carried Indian Cricket on his shoulders for years delayed his retirement from Cricket few years late. He could have retired much before giving us the opportunity to see his stumps cartwheeling against rookie bowlers. As the cliché goes, it is better to retire when people ask “why” and not “when”. Similarly for Rajinikanth it would have been better if he had called it a day after Enthiran. A film in which apparently he was not the 1st choice, but made it a humungous hit with a stellar performance thereby unleashing the larger than life “Rajini phenomenon” and ofcourse the myriad jokes. Director Shankar whose initial choices were Kamal Haasan and Shahrukh for the main leads resorted to Rajini after he realized that only he can make producers fork the mega budget that film called for. Signing off in style post Enthiran on that “high” would have been a fitting climax for an individual who was an outsider in the industry. Now that he didn’t, with Kochadaiyaan and now Lingaa, the conundrum for Rajini begins, I reckon. Decades ago when their careers were going parallel, Kamal started venturing into producing his own films.  I remember reading an interview where Rajini was asked if he will get into production. His answer that time displayed profound wisdom and maturity. He said that he was not keen on producing films because if the 1st movie becomes a hit, the temptation would be to make a bigger hit and if it flops, then the desire would be to deliver a hit. So he felt that it would be a bottomless pit and was happy just acting in movies. Well, I guess with his growing stature and compulsions he had to tweak that philosophy of his. But now I feel he should have applied that wisdom while signing up new movies post Enthiran.  Now that things have come to this head, he can look up to his friend and another successful individual Amitabh Bachchan and take some cues.

Amitabh a mega star and brand in his own right, these days cherry picks his movies and roles where he doesn’t have to play the main lead but where he can leave an impact on the role and the film. This way he is not weighed down by the expectations from a lead actor but at the same time is able to satiate himself of his creative urges and that of his fans’ unending appetite to see him on screen. One or two movies a year in cameo roles till his health and will permits could be a middle ground for the Superstar.

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The moot question is, Can Rajini look at the above options?? Or will he dig into the R2R2R2 template yet again?? Only time will tell.  Well as the folklore goes, “If Rajini can’t, nobody can”. Isn’t it?

On that note, “Dear Birthday, Belated Rajinikanth wishes” 🙂 🙂

The ‘Dwarfing’ of #Vishwaroopam!!!

Events in the last 2 weeks proved beyond doubt that in this Kalyug, even a Vishwaroopam can be dwarfed and how!  Kamal Haasan, the man who dwarfed himself 2 decades ago and played the role of a midget so well in the film Apoorva Sagotharargal (Appu Raja) wouldn’t have asked for this.  This time his Magnum opus ‘Vishwaroopam’ was not allowed to show itself initially for 2 weeks in Tamil Nadu in anticipation of communal trouble – as a precaution. When have you seen any Govt. being so pro-active? What followed in the next few days dwarfed even a tense Indo-Pak one day game in terms of suspense, drama, turn of events and action.  Ban, No Ban, Re Ban, Un ban, …,.. after a while it was beginning to get banal!

On the 3rd of Feb as I am writing this piece, it looks like ‘Vishwaroopam’ will see the light of the day in TN after Kamal agreed for the film to be edited by some super editors. I hope he gives them their due in the title credits!  From here on, I see this setting a rather dangerous precedent.  Film makers must now plan for showing their movies before hand to different fringe groups and take their blessings even after they have the censor board clearance in hand if they show something mirroring the society. Not that this is new (if you recall Maniratnam and Ram Gopal Verma showing their movies –“Bombay” and “Sarkar” to Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray and taking his nod before hitting the theatres)  But this is certainly new for Chennai or other parts of India. There will be some group or other in our highly heterogeneous, populous and emotional country which will have an issue of something or other and threaten to upset the law and order situation.  And imagine what would happen if that group happen to be a vote bank of the ruling party?

I haven’t seen ‘Vishwaroopam’.  From what I’ve heard and read in reviews, it certainly appears that it is not the 1st movie to have dealt with the subject it has.  But it is certainly the 1st to have created such a big ruckus for doing that.  Could it be that Mr.Haasan’s reputation of being a rebel came in the way of any rational discourse?

Even when Kamal was threatening to take the pre-release DTH route to showcase ‘Vishwaroopam’, it was due to this rebellious streak most thought.  However, I for one was convinced that the DTH bogey was a marketing ploy to oversell the film and laugh his way to few banks! Why on earth otherwise one would bet on an alternate channel which had a share of 11% of the revenues and risk the conventional channel which has the lion’s share of revenue (over 70 % )?  As marketers we always feel that pursuing alternate channels of distribution is our birthright whether right or wrong!  So it is perfectly legitimate and smart on the part of the “Vishwa Nayagan” to pursue a new channel in the form of a DTH première for his film to bolster revenues.  But couldn’t resist asking a few questions:

  • Was there a need to pursue that at the risk of your major channel that too for a film where you have admittedly bet all your assets?
  • Would ‘Dell’ sell its laptops to Indian consumer today only through “E-Comm/Online” channel because that’s their global model?
  • If there is no threat to the theatres and it is basically to tap the non theatre going audience – why can’t the DTH première be done after 2 weeks post the release? That audience in any case is not the one to catch first day first shows!
  • Would it not have been better to have ticked off this idea 1st with a less expensive off beat movie where the risks are much lower – and call the theatre owners bluff even if they threaten to boycott?

Considering that Kamal Hassan couldn’t have afforded a boycott for this film the high investments notwithstanding, I was convinced that the DTH posturing was more a clever PR drive to drive many of us directly to theatres as soon as the movie got released.   That ‘Vishwaroopamic opening’ would have helped clear all his debts and ofcourse earned him accolades. With all the visibility in the media and the hype thanks to the DTH story, I thought that Kamal was hitting the bull’s eye.

It was not to be. The hype, hoopla and the reputation of the maker brought in closer scrutiny of the content and insecurities among Muslim groups and more drama followed.   As Kamal set sail to Los Angeles for a global première, his local release got spiked by the Govt. first and then by the courts. That the release couldn’t catch initially the holiday weekend of Pongal and then the longer Republic Day weekend must have been telling on Kamal.  That finally as an artist he had to yield and accept for a few cuts to get the film somehow released in his home state is certainly pragmatic and a commercial compulsion.  But the entire ‘Vishwaroopam’ episode has exposed the politician-business-society nexus in different avatars and is a blow to creative freedom and freedom of expression in the country.  As I mentioned before, I shudder to think what will happen to films which tend to reflect society tomorrow.  I can’t help recall few lines of my all-time favourite poet – Subramania Bharathi in this context:

“Nalladhoar veenai seydhae – adhai
nalangedap puzhudhiyil erivadhundoa

solladi sivasakthi – enaich
chudarmigum arivudan padaiththuvittaay”

“(I) made a noble veena
Would (I) throw it in the garbage?
Answer me oh Goddess
Why create me with a sparkling wisdom?”

P.S: That these lines look like Kamal’s lines addressed to one ‘Amma’ who is considered a Goddess in TN is purely coincidental!!!

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Post update :

I posted this piece on 3rd Feb and since then as I feared look at the news flashes emanating :

4th Feb :

Shocking ! #Suriya‘s eagerly awaited #Singam2 , now faces the wrath of a Muslim group!! “Villain in the film a Muslim pirate of Somalia!

#Kadal update – A christian group led by a priest has filed a complaint against the film and demanded a ban on it 4 being “anti-christian”!