By Gautaman Bhaskaran
Art needs continuous innovation. Otherwise, it gets jaded and boring. As the Spanish master, Pedro Almodovar – who will chair the Cannes Film Festival jury this May – once told me, “There are only X number of stories.” There CAN be only X number of stories. And movie writers and directors must keep narrating them in different ways. They have to keep discovering new methods of telling old tales.
Hindi cinema helmer Vishal Bharadwaj has been doing this with wonderful results. He created Maqbool out of Shakespeare’s ancient “Macbeth”, set it in Bombay’s underworld and produced a marvellous work. With the Bard’s “Othello”, he pulled out Omkara, took his plot to the badlands of Uttar Pradesh and gave us a splendid film. In his third tryst with Shakespeare, he travelled to the terror-infested Kashmir and used “Hamlet” to pen an amazingly dramatic Haider. Bharadwaj presented sparklingly refreshing variations of what Shakespeare wrote in the 16th and 17th centuries, but kept intact the soul and spirit of the original plays. The core ideas w ere left untouched. This is what I call an artistic interpretation or reinvention of a story, an old, old story – centuries old!
This is where Tamil cinema falters, fumbles and falls. It still clings to what it perceives as a winning formula. That the formula has gone long past its money-spinning spree is a fact that few in the Tamil film industry would like to accept or admit or do something about it. Take, for instance, Thambi Ramaiah. His mannerisms, dialogue delivery and just about everything else about him remain painfully the same in movie after movie. And, these are downright irritating, to say the least. Tamil cinema did pretty much the same with Santhanam. He remained the hero’s sidekick for years, his exceptional talent and pleasing good looks wasted – till the actor got gutsy enough to try out a new costume. He has begun playing the hero, but is still somewhat hesitant to go all out in his new avatar.
Forget actors, Tamil films – after some years of experimenting with novel plots – have gone back to the beaten track. Admittedly, a lot of them still walk into the greenery of the countryside and weave their narratives into the rural way of life and living, focussing on their ethos and culture and practices. But this is not enough. If Tamil cinema has to get back to the era of classics of the kind Bharathiraja or Balachander or Mahendran or in recent times Mani Ratnam spun into out spirit and psyche – transforming very ordinary tales into unforgettable magnificence – the current crop of helmers in Tamil Nadu has to push itself into the higher altitude of creativity. Lethargy will not do. You cannot just pepper your plot with coincidences and hope that the audiences will lap them up. If they do – and that too it can be only to an extent – it is because the ticket-paying public has no viable option.
And as a critic, I am often criticised for being too harsh on Tamil movies. The common lament is: “We are not European cinema. We are not even Hollywood. So, please do not compare us with these.”
Fine, I retort. Then why do you want to compete in the Oscars race? Why do you want your films to go to Cannes or Venice? They have no answer to these questions of mine.
Let us face it. Satyajit Ray won a coveted award at Cannes in 1956 with his Pather Panchali. Several non-Tamil Indian works have been part of Cannes and Venice. Tamil auteur Vetrimaaran’s brilliant look at police brutality, Visaaranai, was at Venice in 2015, but this was an exception. Invariably, it has been non-Tamil-language pictures from India that have made the cut at these two prestigious European festivals. And, I dare say, a Malayalam or Hindi movie often has far better production values than Tamil fare.
It is, then, time that Tamil cinema pulled up its socks and got into the act of making better cinema – far better cinema – that what it has been dishing out till now.
Now here is one disappointing work I saw last week:
When Jai’s Krishna in Mahendran Rajamani’s Enakku Vaaitha Adimaigal experiences heartrending ‘love failure’, he walks into a psychiatrist’s couch, and Thambi Ramaiah counsels – in his painfully irritating voice and through his awfully exaggerated mannerisms – the devastated young man to talk to his friends, and not think of committing suicide.
But Krishna’s friends – partly out of sheer jealousy that he has found a ‘good figure’ (read girl) and partly out of indifference which a long-time relationship tends to produce – do not take his telephone calls. So, Krishna, unable to bear the pain of having been separated from Divya (Pranitha), who has found a new boyfriend – decides to end his life, and books into a seedy hotel room, a place infested with pimps and prostitutes. However, the night wears out, and the glass of poison that Krishna places on the table in front of him, remains untouched.
In the meantime, Krishna’s friends, Ramesh (Karunakaran, who must be given better roles), Basha (Kaali Venkat) and Sowmi (Naveen George Thomas), worried about the heart-broken guy, begin a search – which lands each one of them in a different kind of trouble. One, all set to get married, gets caught, for no fault of his, in a call-girl racket. The second on a scooter gets hit by a speeding car. The third is accused of murder, although he has no clue who the victim is.
Rajamani’s tale of these four men takes me through the kind of torture that his characters experience. Except for Karunakaran, the other actors are unimpressive. Jai, actually the hero, does not want to let go of his wooden looks, and his flat dialogue delivery adds to a viewer’s boredom.
The plot is not novel, the script is shoddy and, in the end, Enakku Vaaitha Adimaigal, seems like a hurriedly assembled piece of work. All jumbled up.
*Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on Indian and world cinema for close to four decades, and may be e-mailed at [email protected]
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