The travails of hyperstardom

During the audio release of his last blockbuster Enthiran/Robot, Rajinikanth while addressing the star-struck audience raised his right hand and twirled its index finger in air saying, “once one reaches the top, one has to come down. That’s life. If you remain right there, there’s every chance you will disappear” and signed off with that staccato laughter. A good measure of what he said seems to apply to the great man himself today. His popularity has reached stratospheric heights, but his movies are apparently taking the fall for him.

If Rajini were to be stationed high above this lonely planet, in the stratosphere, how would a conversation between him and ground control look?

rajni1

Rajini: Ground control, I have a situation.

Ground control operator to his colleagues: Oh my God!!! Anbu, Ilamaran, Umaa seekiram vaanga inga! Guess who’s on the line from stratosphere? Enga thalaivar da! Rajini has called.

Anbu: Comedy pannaadha (don’t kid me)! Speaker le podu, let’s hear

GCO: I’m serious! Thalaiva, is it really you?

Rajini: Aamam da kanna (yes dear), it’s me! Now listen, I don’t have forever to talk. Up here, I’m alone and getting really bugged. Can you get me back on earth?

GCO: Impossible thalaiva. You shouldn’t have gone so high up. We have never had anyone reach such heights, and don’t know how to deal with it.

Rajini: Dammit, I’m stuck! OK, here is the real deal. My movies are not keeping me company

Ilamaran: What happened thalaiva?

Rajini: You bloody well know. Last five years, none of my movies have done well

GCO: Very true annai. You should choose good scripts

Rajini: Dei, you think I’m doing time pass? We need to keep evolving, yes? I can’t keep warning every baddie who comes my way with my finger and pack him off with a punch line. So I try to do something different these days

Umaa: Sir, we want you to give us movies like Baasha and Padayappa

Rajini: Ayyoo, the ghost of these movies will continue to haunt me even in my grave, I’m sure! Can’t you ever get over these?

Umaa: That’s difficult sir. But we also like different movies….

Rajini: Where? I try an animation flick, that too motion capture, and you say ‘kuppa padam’ (trash), ‘bomma padam’ (doll movie). I try some history and add amusement, and you say it’s too long and boring. I play a gangster again, just for you, and you still aren’t happy. What shall I do?

Ilamaran: We understand thalaiva. I feel you need good directors

Rajini: You fool! KS Ravikumar has given some of my biggest hits. You call him a bad director? Ranjith is young and promising and critically acclaimed. That’s also a mistake? I’m getting tired I tell you

Ila: Shankar, sir. See how good  Sivaji and Robot were

Rajini: I can’t book Shankar for a lifetime, can I? Anyway next year 2.0 is coming. Working with him 10 years now

Anbu: Why do you worry so much annai? We will continue to love you anyway

Rajini: (to self) When will these jokers understand that a string of flops is not good for a superstar. My resume is starting to look pathetic anyway. I don’t want to end up like Rajesh Khanna.

(to the kids at ground control) It’s for your sake I’m trying different roles guys! Today you watch movies from around the world and choices are varied. I need to give you something that matches international quality

Anbu: All that I agree. But you are special, you see! You are bigger than your movies.

Rajini: Karmam! (all my doing)

(to self) no point in discussing with these kids!

(to the team) ok guys! I’ll see what I can do. Thanks for your time, nice talking!

Hangs up.

Then to his accounts manager, “do you think I will do fine even if I announce retirement?”

Accounts: Yes sir. You can also endorse some brands on TV

Rajini: Kanna, I will never come on TV! Understand? You better understand!

Damned if Rajini knew, forget others!

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Pray, what do I do? I haven’t made the film, but I want it to succeed. I don’t know how it will be, but I know how I want it to be. It shouldn’t be the best, but it should be the best yet. If it’s got him, it has to be real good, but not in the real sense of good. It should be nothing like what has come till date, but should have everything we have come to expect.

Pray, what is it about? Is it progressive? Does it have a human touch, or only his touch? Does it portray women well? Will it glorify the alpha male? Will it have punches aplenty, a swagger too many, and Chicken-soup advices candy-wrapped in tunes? Is it a story of against-all-odds or is it about getting even? Does that even matter?

Pray, will it win? Alpha male or betta’ female, the film should win in which he should win. He should win, because it is the person in him and not the actor in him. I want the punches, because no one else pulls them like him. I want the odds and evens both, because he tags style to victory. His style. He should win, because he has shown that the bizarre can win too, and how!

Pray, is there anything I can do? While I await the answer, let me do what people do best.

Pray

Edhegarike – Serious relief

The Gods, with just a month for the close of the year ,appear to have relented and smiled, at last! Seriously, the reader would have been staring at another of those countless mournful pieces eager to script a very creative obituary of the Kannada film industry at this very moment, if not for a saving grace that appeared last Friday, which goes by the name of ‘Edhegaarike’. Mainstream Kannada cinema this year has finally discharged one product that the moviegoer with the slightest hint of discernment can relate to.

One of the defensive postures adopted by your regular proud Kannadiga, whenever needled with gibes about the abysmal quality of movies here, would be to hark back to the golden period of Kannada cinema during the 1970s and 80s, which drew heavily from popular and thought provoking novels. ‘Bhootayyana Maga Ayyu’, ‘Banker Margayya’, ‘Bangarada Manushya’, shining examples, will not prove him wrong. If inspiration from good literature was any measure of the quality of films, then Edhegaarike should automatically score on that front, even if not riding on any other merit. But thankfully, the movie respects the medium it’s bred in, and has a narrative that earns it the respect reserved for classics. ‘Agni’ Sridhar, the reformed gangster and a man of letters is now a respected name in the industry. His recounting in paperback of his days in the underworld in ‘Dadagiriya Dinagalu’ was a bestseller and its celluloid cousin ‘Aa Dinagalu’ was a hit and a critically acclaimed film as well. Good for him. His protégé, Sumana Kiththoor now presents Edegaarike , a movie based on a novel by the same title, which he had penned a few years ago. No prizes for guessing the underlying theme of the novel. Edhegaarike in Kannada translates to ‘Guts’, though I’m slightly unsure as to why the tag line has the commonplace article (grammar) added.

It is indeed a predicament of gigantic proportions when you are faced with no choice but to pull the plug on someone’s life, more so when the latter knows he’s waiting in the line of fire. Doubly so when you share an emotional bonding with him, albeit a fleeting one. Edhegaarike’s strong point lies in mirroring this through conversations between the protagonists. Gangster flicks are not new to Kannada cinema, but our audiences have mostly been fed a bloody diet of such movies. Machetes, choppers, guns are brandished with flourish and the dialect is consciously pedestrian. And no, the argument that thugs can only speak such a language will hold little water, as it takes all sorts, including the literary types to stoke the fire of rivalry. Edhegaarike eschews blood and gore for a brilliant narrative, and the characters speak Kannada we hear in respectable neighborhoods. Sumana mentioned in a TV interview that she was faced with troubling questions even while she was shooting the film. I see no reason why she wouldn’t have, as the more I thought about it long after the movie was over, the turmoil in the mind of the guy with the gun continued to bother me. And imagine depicting on screen a cocktail of emotions. Anger, indignation, empathy, love, friendship, humanity and such related. Aditya as Sona, a sharp shooter from Bombay, who’s sent to Bangalore on the pretext of ‘fielding’ a local don, and Atul Kulkarni as Sridhar, who learns eventually that he needs to kill Sona, emote well and my post-movie ruminations had their performances blend so perfectly into the characters I felt for. The background score by Sadhu Kokila is in good taste and the single number which he has rendered is a welcome change from all the cacophony we are subjected to these days.

All ye cinema faithful, a trip to the nearest theater to catch Edhegaarike is in order. That the movie is in Kannada will certainly relieve bruised egos,  while cosmetically enriching the product.

-Metafore

Hugo

‘Hugo’, Martin Scorsese’s 3D masterpiece finally found distributors for its Indian release, or the dealers of the print decided to ship the can to India as an afterthought. Be that as it may, our (read: movie buffs and patrons of Scorsese) hitherto disappointed selves were relieved to learn that the film was on the Bangalore screens this week. The movie, we decided, with its feeble presence in a handful of multiplexes in the city could be gone before we realized. Sunday’s dash to the theater was inevitable and the rush was warranted, expectedly. Like Clint Eastwood said, tomorrow is a promise to no one. Thus, in agreement with the million dollar baby maker, we caught the movie in the peak of the evening, lest we miss it while allowing ourselves a week-long blink.

Movies made with a lot of heart always emerge victorious. Well, almost. A greenie with the excitement of a kid getting to sit on the motorcycle for the first time, may craft his maiden venture with all sincerity, but if his hand missed that wee bit of deftness, the product may go down in history as a valiant effort at best. Karan Malhotra, who hijacked Bollywood’s mindspace for several months with heavy sound and fury preceding ‘Agneepath’s release, will tell you. Hugo, on the other hand, is by no means a product of plain ambition. It is backed by the most respected marquee names, not to forget the awesome visual appeal it had on audiences across geog raphies. Inspired by Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the movie virtually transports us to the Paris of the thirties. Dante Ferretti, the production designer salvaged much of the pride for the film which had secured no less than eleven Oscar nominations, by successfully claiming the golden statuette. The train station, the clocks, the works, the inside view of the mechanism – it’s history re-created alright. The movie, in 3D, brings depth to the characters literally. Like Scorsese says “The actors slightest move, the slightest intention is picked up much more precisely”. Which brings us to the man, and his movie.

Scorsese’s films have always been about technique and narration. It’s little wonder that the director was ranked among the 100 most influential people in the world by Time, in 2007. Having gifted generations with cult classics like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Aviator and The Departed, – all gritty tales of from America including those of its mobdom, a biopic of an eccentric pilot, a boxer’s life story, a story of an ultimately deranged cabbie – it was a departure of sorts for Martin with ‘Hugo’. The movie tells us the story of a young ‘un who goes great lengths to unearth the message he believes his father had left for him, in an automaton he had with him at his museum. The director’s gamble has apparently paid off, with the Golden Globes crowning him with what the Oscars didn’t.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is taken away by his uncle, an alcoholic watchmaker responsible for maintaining the clocks in the Paris train station, after his father (Jude Law), an expert clock maker in Paris, dies in a museum fire. Of his father’s many possessions, Hugo is particularly fond of the broken mechanical man or an automaton and is keen on repairing it, with the firm belief that the machine has some message to him from his father. In the process of fixing it, he is caught by a toy store owner, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) for stealing parts from his shop. Georges confiscates his notebook which has the drawings and notes to fix the automaton, and commands Hugo to work for him to match the worth of the items he stole from his shop. Hugo is desperate to recover the notebook from the toy store owner, and as he finds his way to the latter’s house, he meets and befriends Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), Georges’s goddaughter.

The movie reveals its tributary character as it unfolds, reiterating the film maker’s love for the medium. Hugo introduces Isabelle to the movies, a novelty for the girl whose godfather had denied her the pleasure all these years. Papa Georges is really Georges Melles, an acclaimed film director whom Hugo’s father always used to talk about fondly. Georges’s ‘Voyage to the Moon’ happens to be the first film Hugo’s father ever watched, and assumes apparent significance to Hugo and Papa Georges in their lives.

A delightful accessory to the proceedings of the film is Scorsese’s re-creation of the ‘train arrival’ – a short film made by Lumiere Brothers in 1897 – which depicts the legend of the audience scattering with fright as the train approaches the station.

‘Hugo’ drips with honesty, and authenticity. Two thumbs-up to Martin Scorsese for thoroughly entertaining us with a story that isn’t his obvious forte, but handled with his usual and sure-shot bravura.

-Met

Up there!

Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman, is one of the very few movies of our time that takes an impersonal look at how a job is done by an individual. Reitman is the one who gave us the brilliant “Thank you for Smoking” in 2005, which talked about the efforts of a lobbyist for a multinational tobacco company.

In this movie, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has a job that requires him to travel to employees’ offices across the country and fire them. He calls himself a ‘Termination Facilitator’. His organization has to lay off people but would want to avoid the mess of doing it all themselves, and that’s where Ryan comes in the picture. So, does he like what he’s doing? Yes he does, because the job fits his personal profile. He doesn’t want a home, doesn’t want a family. In fact he gives self-help lectures in which he advises people to try and stay free of as much baggage as possible in their life. And his realistic and immediate goal is to earn as many frequent flier miles as possible, by the virtue of his being air borne more than 250 days a year.

This supposedly cool life he’s enjoying appears threatened by the arrival of a bright and ambitious new graduate Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who comes up with a revolutionary idea of firing through video chat. This could save the company so many more dollars on travel and living. After considerable debate, it is agreed that both of them hit the road on a few assignments, where he teaches her the ropes.

There’s another woman in Ryan’s life. Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). She’s also a road warrior, and is in a convenient relationship with Ryan. They meet at available opportunities in hotel suites, have meals together, and act the happy couple without commitment. While it all works for both of them, Ryan’s investment in emotions is yet to come, and he has more revelations lined up for him.

Up in the Air is an extremely well made movie that shows us the way things are, without any sugar coating. Like Pulitzer winning film critic Roger Ebert mentions, the movie ‘takes the trust people once had in their jobs and pulls out the rug’. It is a film almost apt for the time it hit the screens. The great recession of 2008. It’s no surprise that it went on to receive 6 Oscar nominations in the year of its release.

‘Basterds’ – A humble review of an uncontested classic

Revisionist cinema has found flavor in the box office in numerous instances, be it Westerns or historicals, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), There Will Be Blood (2007), Gladiator (2000) etc. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds(2009) is the latest movie in this genre, if we can regard it as such.

The movie, set mostly in Nazi-occupied France, follows a band of Jewsish-Americans known as “The Basterds” who bring upon themselves the task of spreading fear among the Nazis during the Second World War. Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), the ruthless leader of the gang, takes a commitment from every member to get him a hundred Nazi scalps. The team consists of a motley crew of guerilla soldiers including a renegade German. Incidentally, we have Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie’ Laurent), a Jewish refugee who has fled to France after witnessing the slaughter of her ilk in the hands of Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), who infamously earned the title of “Jew Hunter”. In France, Shoshanna is running a modest cinema hall, when war hero Frederick Zoller takes an instant liking for her and is very insistent on her friendship. He has starred in a film that glorifies his bravado in the war, and gets his mentor Joseph Goebbels to have it premiered in her cinema. Shoshanna uses this as an opportunity to get her revenge on the Nazis, and plans to blow up the hall on the evening of the premiere. When the ‘Basterds’ get wind of the premiere, they know it’s the best opportunity for them to get as many Nazis as possible in one stroke. The paths of the ‘Basterds’ and ‘Shoshanna’ are waiting to be crossed on that fateful evening of the premiere.

 

Quentin Tarantino is back with his brand of entertainment with graphic violence in good measure, raw humor and a non-linear narrative. People who have watched Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill would know what know what to expect from ‘Basterds’. The latter is a crackling yarn, given the fact that WW2 is such a perennial favorite among history junkies. Christoph Waltz can well take a bow. He has essayed the role of Hans Landa with great conviction. It is little surprise that he won the Academy award for Best Supporting Actor in 2009. Brad Pitt with his Southern American is absolutely delightful as Lt. Aldo Raine, and had audiences shrieking in the aisles, in a scene of particularly violent interaction with Diane Kruger.

Inglourious Basterds will easily join the list of classics that have revisited WW2, but will be remembered more for its engaging screenplay that has the better part of the film speaking French and German.

-Met

Rewind

It’s one thing to discover great music, which is but obviously a feeling worth a million bucks. Like chancing upon an old ARR composition that didn’t make the big time when it was released, but a true gem nevertheless. My discovery of Sugam Sugam from Vandi Cholai Chinnaraasu or Theendaai from En Swaasa Kaatrae left me amazed at the sheer range of sounds he spawned right from the time he burst on the music scene. But re-discovering a classic piece of melody is quite simply an experience of triumph. Hearken back to your formative years and scout for one of the rarer Boney M or Jethro Tull tracks that used to play so regularly on your stereo cassette player. I can bet my bottom dollars that your first instinct would be to exult. At the risk of sounding very assumptious, it would be quite natural for you to instantly take heart to the fact that there’s still some good music you can fall back on, and that sanity is not facing extinction yet.

In turning to my earphones to help me get through the work day last week, I was glad that I could locate Lakshminarayana Shankar’s Soul Searcher online, as we are strictly discouraged to download files from the internet without authorization. Soul Searcher is an album that we got to own when I was in high school and it has always managed to remain in my conscious memory. Musical content apart, it’s perhaps because I hadn’t come across the album in any of the stores or at any of my friends’ houses other than mine, likely due to my limited social network and travel. It’s also perhaps due to the distinct album cover set in a transparent form representing the soul presumably, featuring the silhouette of an elephant’s trunk and a danseuse performing to the tusker. Whatever be the reason, my day was mostly lit up because the tunes all served to help me relive the limited variety I was exposed to during high school.

MusicIndiaOnline.Com has just one lengthy number under the album, but with my unreliable memory I remember the audio tape we had contained 5 tracks in total distributed between two sides of the cassette. Ragam Thanam Pallavi  makes up the album and is more than fifty minutes long. Here is where the genius of Shankar is demonstrated, as the track by its very nature allows him to improvise and get into his true element. He ensures that the global audience is given plenty of scope to appreciate the strains of melody the Indian classical way. With the legendary Zakir Husaain on the tabla. Peter Gabriel – who went on to partner with Shankar and give him due international recognition on numerous musical outings including Passion of the Christ – on the keyboard and the Grammy winning ‘Vikku’ Vinayakram on the ghatam,  we get to trip on transcendental performances for the most part of the hour. The track is composed in raga Kapi, which, true to its nature, induced bouts of devotion and pathos in me for the while I was plugged to it, and is a classic(al) example of how great music is always served up in leisure, allowing for each instrument to establish it’s place in the performance at ease and surely enough. Due to my lack of knowledge of classical music at any level, I’ll have to resort to pedestrian usages to briefly describe how the track works. While the first strain of melody reminds us of the presence of stalwarts on the track, the point where it changes gears, after a good 25 minutes or so, is where the vibrancy of the composition is unveiled in all its glory.

Soul Searcher really got me re-hooked to Shankar, to the Violin, and to Carnatic, and it couldn’t have been at a better time. I now make an effort to know what I’m listening, compared to those days where music accessible by me got a default five stars! I’m searching all over now, whole and soul! It does pay to dust off old memories, yeah!

-Metafore