If you take the career of Selvaraghavan and Dhanush, both had a similar share of success and failures. But one thing common with both of them was that they were constantly evolving in their own fields. Starting the career as a story writer, Selvaraghavan later provided successful yet brilliant works like Kadhal Konden, Pudhupettai, 7G Rainbow Colony, Aayirathil Oruvan and my personal favorite Mayakkam Enna. Though I haven’t seen Irandam Ulagam (which people suggest as a waste of time), Selvaraghavan seems to be the director who is always misunderstood by the audience. Maybe its the urge of the audience to understand and to get entertained instantaneously, make his films suffer at the box office. But if you look closely into his filmography, each film had a color and a flavor. Pudhupettai is no exception.
The opening scene of pudhupettai is a metaphorical reflection of the whole film. A dark-lit prison cell, where Kokki kumar (Dhanush) is taken into. He shouts as he can’t bear the silence surrounding the prison. He narrates his story as a series of flashbacks. And it resembled more of Anwar Congo in Joshua Oppenheimer’s ‘The Act of Killing’, except for the fact that Kokki really did all the killings in the film space, as opposed to Anwar Congo, who re-creates the real events.
Though I am not really a fan for songs that mar the narrative of a film that has an engaging screenplay like ‘Pudhupettai’, I really like the very aspect of showing the dark, un-known side of Chennai, a metropolitan city in South India. In the song ‘Enga area ulla varadhe’ (literally translates to ‘You are not allowed in our area’), the lyricist almost demarcate the different areas of Chennai with respect to different classes of society. And in the course of the song, they show the events that challenge the lives of people living in the area of Kokki on a daily basis. And violence is just another one to be dealt in their lives. Even when Kokki goes to a film with his friends, he asks ‘Fightellam neraiya irrukum la?’ (Will there be more action in the film?), which makes them breed with violence as a part of life. As the tagline of the film reads ‘Survival of the fittest’, Kokki kumar faces problems right from the word go. He saw his father killing his mother and runs away from his father, as he gets to know the plot of him getting killed by his father. And after a series of struggles, finally lands up in Anbu’s gang that operates for Thailavar (Azhagam Perumal), who is the MLA (member of Legislative Assembly) of the opposition party.
In one of the clashes, Kokki, after getting caught in the midst of the opposition gang, gets beaten to pulp and finally he lands a blow on the brother of ruling party MLA, Murthy and the guy dies on that spot for the surprise of everyone. Kokki survived the first phase of his struggle by fighting against all odds and made a name for himself in the gang. How he survives the next phase is what all about this visceral, magical yet subtle take on the lives of gangsters in Chennai.
Most of the scenes are shot in green and yellow lighting that gives you the gruesome and a haunting feel into the world of gangsters in Chennai. The way Kokki rise up to the task of saving himself from his enemies and also taking against them is a direct reference to the way ‘The Great Indian rat-race’. Even in one of the earlier scenes in the film, when Kokki gets framed as a guy who sells drugs, he gets beaten up in the cell and in the fraction of the moment, you can see the graffiti on the walls that has ‘मेरा भारत महान है’ written on it, which means ‘India is Great’ in the midst of red lighting, which is a subtle reference to the darker times Indians are in, with respect to violence (domestic, communal), corruption and lots more. (Though the film got released in 2006, nothing much has changed really).
Some of the ironical situations that happens in the politics of Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in India has been shown in an honest way, which is one of the most important positives in this film. There is a scene when Kokki gets arrested the second time in the film and after some time, he gets released (typical of Indian legal system) and when he approaches Thalaivar regarding the events that is happening around him, Thalaivar quickly makes him as the Secretary of a constituency and he is welcomed with grace by the same, you guessed it, the policemen and one police officer utter his name to Kokki and asks him to remember his name. These are some of the moments, that audience skips giving attention for two reasons, one that is not really related to the narrative and two it is a usual thing and nothing so great about it. Almost all the events in the film paints the same type of scenarios, but the way every sequence unfolds into a pattern is what makes ‘Pudhupettai’ a film, that has to be watched several times not only for the performance of Dhanush as a lone warrior in the battlefield of vengeance, revenge and survival, but also for the way ‘Selvaraghavan’ has given a definition to the gangster cinema, before it was cool and mainstream. As I have watched it long back, I don’t know much about its DVD sales. But non-tamilians, if you get a chance to watch this film with subtitles, go for it and you are in for a great experience of violence in an area unknown to many around the globe.
(PS: Though almost all the songs in this film were commercially a success, this one song, which doesn’t appear in the film sums up the whole film and you can listen to this with English subtitles here.)
Poster courtesy: Indian Alternative Tumblr
“Blind Spot is one of the crucial aspects that drives the world of cinephilia forward”
That quote was just made up to compensate the fact that I am also a part of this ever-increasing and exciting world of cinephilia. But, in reality, I am not even there. It is not that because I have watched less number of films compared to my fellow mates in this world. It is because I don’t have the slightest of clue about some of the famous works in this world of moving pictures. Let me not take too much on myself. It has been like four to five years since I have opened to this world of cinema , which is worlds apart from the conventional regional cinema in India, the fodder that was put to me ever since my childhood. Looking back, I wonder how my life would have been shaped up as of now, if I was not projected with likes of cinema from Hollywood and elsewhere. The major consequence would have been, there wouldn’t be this blog post existing to explain this situation.
Coming back to the blind spots, which is one of the common topics that is discussed among people in this age of social media with respect to Film. To be precise, everyone have blind spots. It is just the matter of magnitude. When it comes to me, who is a toddler in this world of cinema, it is an obvious fact that I have blind spots (maybe even bigger than that like a Black hole). Added to that, I haven’t seen a single work of some of the greatest directors, cinema has ever produced. Anyways, at the end of the day I always believe blind spots makes me analyse my preferences, tastes when it comes to cinema and always keeps me in search of the creations that I am interested to look out for and share the same with my friends. Most of the films and the directors mentioned are based on several lists like Sight&Sound Poll, TSPDT list and so on. So, here I am presenting my Blind Spots in the world of cinema. (PS: And there aint any rankings or preferences with respect to directors as I don’t have a clue about their filming style. Also, don’t judge me after this list. I will endure)
List of directors, whose work I haven’t seen till now (Top 20 as lot more will be so humiliating):
Now, onto some of the films I am so interested but not yet got a chance to watch them (The list is endless but I am having it as Top 20):
Finally, will end with the very own list of directors and films from India, that I have as Blind Spots
These are some of the many Blind spots I have with regards to cinema. In case if you are following the post, please comment or tweet me your famous blind spots. It is ok to share. After all, Blind spots are good for a cinephile. Cheers!!
Though half of the month was marred by the semester exams, was lucky enough to catch up with quite good movies in the last week of March. And added to it, I found out lot of books on cinema in my University library, which will keep me occupied in the following months. Will update more on the collection of books in the future weeks. The only regret I had in this month with respect to cinema was waiting for my exams to get completed and watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’, but was removed from the theaters just a day before my final exam. Cheers!!
Professor’s friend to Professor: “You are a difficult man!!“; Prof: “I am as simple as my chinna”
John Abraham’s Agraharathil Kazhutai (Donkey in the Brahmin street) do has a lot of similarities to Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, yet so different in its own portrayal of characters, circumstances and of course the protagonist, donkey. Narayana Swamy (M.B.Sreenivasan) is a professor working in a christian college. Once, he encounters a donkey at his doorsteps while returning from work. And he comes to know that its mother has been killed by an angry mob. So he decides to take care of ‘Chinna’ (name by which he calls it). Being a part of an orthodox brahmin community, what are the problems he faces after he brings chinna to his home, forms the story line of this hard-hitting, thought-provoking yesteryear Indian (Regional language: Tamil) cinema.
The director has impressed me with the way he has shown the back-drop of a perfect Brahmin-ghetto (or agraharam). A lot of issues like untouchability, exploitation of the down-trodden, blind-superstitions, commercialization of the religion in the name of god have been taken and I have to say it has been well handled with a subtle touch and a pure master-class.When his mother complains to his father about the donkey in the house, the father calmly replies “He is an educated guy and he knows what he is doing”, which made me think that to show humanity, you need not be a learned or a literate. You just have to be a part of the civilization.
The narration of the complaints put forward by the people about the professor was awesome. Every now and then, you almost feel superstition and circumstances were the culprits in making chinna, a bad omen to the village. Even when the priest notices a corpse of a baby on the temple, he interrogate the woman and in reply she puts the blame on the donkey, and after some convincing arguments (which were not), the group of people come to the conclusion that the donkey could have been responsible for this activity, which is a true reflection of the sad state of our society when it comes to religions and superstitions.
Though Hinduism has a lot of castes, sub-sects and all, this film could give a glimpse of how a class of Hindus (who think they are elite) have their mindset towards some of the untouched subjects (pun-unintended) in the society to the world audience. I wont deny the fact, even nowadays, in this globalized world, some parts of the Indian society still needs an open-minded approach towards humanity. In that way, this film is relevant even in this modern-age.
Professor is just one of many such exceptions from this Brahmin community to take such bold stance and defend on what he thinks is right instead of getting carried away by the so-called ‘society’. From the house-maid to the Professor’s relatives, they think that he is eccentric to do such things in the orthodox community and they even question his marital status, education etc linked to his insanity (as perceived by them). Most of the characters in the film tend to get so judgmental towards the donkey, Professor and his family. There lies the big problem and it almost makes you question the very existence of society and its contribution for our well-being. Even in the film, the neighbors, out of sheer hatred against others use donkey as a toy to get their revenge fulfilled.
Worse, even nowadays many ignorant people suffer from that phobia of ‘What will the society think of us??’. You are a part of society and no matter whatever the society foul-mouth or talk about you, it all finally comes down to the mindset of the individuals as to how they take it. (Although on the hindsight, this issue of bringing a donkey aint that much blasphemous I guess).
Film starts and ends with the verses of renowned Tamil poet Subramanya Bharati on the significance of fire. Fire, a major part of our lives should burn in the form of courage, wisdom, thinking etc., which reminded me of the theater plays and dramas that instill the spirits among the audience by their narration. You can see the relevancy of the Professor always bound with the books about great minds with rational thinking throughout the film, which is reflected in his body language and thoughts. At one point of the film, Professor’s colleague gives him a book named ‘Balthazar’ and the Professor in turn asks him whether he has watched the film. I think this film is so different from Balthazar in many layers.
Still I feel I have missed many layers of the film as its my first viewing and hope I get enlightened and have some more points to ponder about the brilliance of this film by John Abraham. I also noticed the fact that this is one of the many precursors to the Sussendran’s ‘Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai’ mainly on the grounds of superstitions. Cheers!!
(PS: Just noticed, this is my first post about Tamil cinema since the advent of the blog, hope I do more of it in the future)
If I could remember correctly, it was in the month of June last year, when I came to know about a Japanese director by name Nagisa Oshima and that too through the archives of Acquarello and it was just a pure co-incidence that after a week I received one of his films from my friend and the name of that film was ‘In the Realm of Senses’. Before giving it to me, my friend adviced, ‘Do watch it alone’. I was thinking ‘Once I started watching world cinema three years back, I always preferred to watch it alone. Not that I am an introvert. But the objects of sexuality shown in the world-cinema are not fully suitable for the ‘so-called’ conservative Indian audience. That too guys like me, who comes from an orthodox upbringing, anything viewed more than a ‘smooch’ was considered to be blasphemous.
Coming to Oshima’s film, I literally enjoyed every frame of it. The best part in that film was that, once you go deep into the plot, even the profanities diminish from your mind and you start questioning about the magnitude of desires the girl had.
When I suggested the same to others (read like-minded), I did threw a caution that I liked the film thoroughly, though some parts of dragged a bit to exaggerate the sexual-thirst of Sada and the film is notorious for its provocative plot. Few of my friends actually likde it (or they pretended in front of me).
Though not much of his films are accessible in my part of the world back then and given the fact that I had watched only one film of his entire filmography of 23 features (if I am right), I could say honestly that this man was one of the pioneers in changing the face of art-house cinema. As the Tamil proverb goes like-wise ‘Oru panna sothuku oru soru padham’ (Literal Translation: Quality of a pot of rice can be valued from a single grain of it). Still waiting and keeping my hands on YouTube and DVDs sale to grab a glimpse of his filmography. Lets see.
Japanese Cinema and Culture continues to impress me. Oshima, you will be solely missed by many and I am one of them.
A Cinephile with less experience and more admiration to your Filmography.