Monthly Archives: October 2006

On Blogstreet, I’m 46

According to Blogstreet.com, I am now a very popular blogger in India. For three days now, I am at 46 in their list of top 100 bloggers. I don’t seem to have the links or the hits to show for such popularity. Is this a prank on me? Not sure.

Unusual Tamil rap song

You must absolutely go here and listen to this track. Like, CC says, the song is pretty good. Don’t be put off by the first few seconds. This is a super example of a remix song. Pretty long, this song by Yogi B and Natchathira is about six minutes. But you will find yourself coming back for more. I am still trying to get the lyrics. Now go listen. Really. It’s good.

Vallavan: First day, first show

Being a sub is usually a thankless task, a dog’s life actually. No one knows you and you know no one. Unlike reporters, who often bask in the glory of their own stories, subs never get to show off. Once out of office, you are a non-entity. Only your mom knows you.
But if you are a journalist who is into film – this works better if you are a star critic with a big, fat media house – then you get invited to press shows. These are really, really special screenings for the press so that the scribes get to have a go at a movie before everyone else. I think they all get high at the virginal experience.
But Tamil movies – strangely enough – don’t have press shows before movies are open to the public. Sometimes, not always, this is just clever thinking on the part of the studio honchos to pre-empt any negative criticism. Most of the time, it is just darn too inconvenient to have one.

Interlude: Premiers are different from press shows. Premiers are like a costume ball even, where film industry big wigs, journalists and taggers on arrive and flatter each other. I can only speculate because I have never been in one.
There is another variety. This is the preview, which is popular in the west, but I don’t know if it exists here. These guys get to watch the movie or portions of it and crib to the studio executive, who gets the director to tailor the movie according to audience taste. Like a preview viewer (what the heck) can say there is too much blood in this scene to too less. Or this looks too real or this looks fake. Then the executive goes to the director who grumbles and carries grudges around for weeks, but finally does the required cutting and special effects and stuff. Rarely, they even re-shoot. I think Ram Gopal Varma and Priyadarsan should have previews. When you have a lot of spit on your face after the movie is screen, then you bloody well know you made a jackass of everybody.

Coming back to the story: Deprived of press shows, journalists like me get the help of the PROs in theaters. Recently, I reviewed Vallavan for the paper I work in. I booked a ticket but that got cancelled because the show got cancelled.
Oh, wait a minute now. The show was cancelled but it didn’t quite get cancelled. The PRO at Satyam Theatres told me it was cancelled but it wasn’t. The film was screened – true the ‘box’ came late – but my ticket got cancelled. Why, I could never find out. Take a front row ticket or clear off, the guy at the counter told me. He was tense. It was Diwali and the fella was having a tough time.
The movie watching experience itself was great though the movie wasn’t. Nayantara made an appearance – not on screen but in the movie hall – and the audiences went berserk. As the credits rolled, 400 were looking that side and 400 were looking at the exit door where she was standing. Or so I think. I couldn’t really see, though God knows I wanted to. I think I got knocked over. But I wasn’t worrying. No, not me. I was thinking: “If somebody had my damn ticket, it better be Nayantara”. It would have been better if she had asked first. But anyways…

I guess that was the high point of the whole affair. I mean at the theatre. After the movie got over, a man in front of me put up his hands up in the classic vote seeking gesture and prayed for mercy. “Kadasiya mudichuttangappaa,” he said, as he was helped out of the theatre.

Oh, I forgot to tell you the story of Muthu, the barber. Muthu, the barber, lives in Medavakkam and gives haircuts for 40 bucks. It’s his own A/C Saloon and he seemed proud of it. He was my movie partner. At least, he was sitting next to me. I first saw him in the counter where he was standing next to me. Try as they might, Satyam can never kill the Q.
Muthu is an Ajith fan. He wanted to see Varalaru, previously called Godfather. Sad for him, no ticket. So after cycling all the way from Medavakkam, he didn’t want to go back. He decided to watch Vallavan. Even worse for him. His life was getting dimmer by the minute.
Somebody had told me, next to Rajni, Ajith has the most loyal fan following in Tamil Nadu. I asked Muthu why he was backing Ajith over Kamal and others. “Kamal irrukkattum sir. Intha pasanga ellam producer, director pasanga. Ajith oruthan than…” At this point, words failed him. I half heard him stifle a cry. He is crying, I thought. Finally, his right thumb extended and swung upwards. “Gun party, sir,” he said, wanting to continue.
(Translation: Ajith was the only guy without previous connections to the industry; somebody who had come up on his own, instead of riding piggyback. Muthu identified with that, I think.)

But then, S.Ve. Shekar appeared on screen and disrupted our most interesting conversation. After that, the lights went off and it was a hellhole for three hours and 10 minutes.

The review of Vallavan is at Desicritics.
P.S: Varalarum sema bladaam. But I haven’t seen it yet.

Flags of Our Fathers

Where Saving Private Ryan offers technique, Mr. Eastwood’s film suggests metaphysics. – Manohla Dargis, NYT.

God, religion, festivals, etc.

Do you have to believe in God to celebrate Diwali or Ramzan? In any case, I don’t believe in God or festivals. But it’s a holiday. Will sleep late and laze around. This buying sweets, clothes and stuff seems like a pointless thing to do. At times, at least. Especially when I see the large crowds in places like T.Nagar.
Lately, as Diwali drew nearer, I felt the whole thing had gotten much too materialistic for me. Why must the celebration of good over evil be so messy?

3: Ezhuthil Vazhpavan Antro Naan

Madhumita had posted two of Sundara Ramaswamy’s poems when he died on October 14, last year. Now, more than a year later, she posts a Q&A from one of SuRa’s books, Vazhga Sandegangal.

Chenthil has translated a poem into English.

My grandpa’s library

The world of books is a strange, exciting place to get lost in. At home, books were never is short supply. I think there are two kinds of homes: one in where parents want their kids to read books, where mom’s ecstasy is in watching her kid read. She bores the neighbours and relatives about the kind of books her child prodigy reads. Mine was such a home, though as you can probably make out, I was never a prodigy.
The other kind of home is where bookworms are losers. Parents want their kids to be street smart and worldly wise, and there is no manual, no tome, for that yet, is there?
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. Books offer you an experience and open up a world that may not accessible for you otherwise. Like say, Robinson Crusoe. Even if you are lucky enough to get stranded in an island, you are unlikely to find a servant as amiable as Friday. But the things that friends, relatives and neighbours can teach you are sometimes so profound that they make books look like a thing made of paper and ink (which is what it doesn’t look like most other times).
I didn’t have a library of my own. I lost most of my books once I was through with them. I gave some to my nephew. But quite a lot didn’t make it with me to adulthood.
But I don’t regret that much. Books are such a pain to keep. What I truly like is being in a library – like a public library or BCL. There you have the books wonderfully kept by other people for you. All you got to do is go there and borrow them.

Now let me get to the story I want to tell. This is the story of a library filled mostly with books that I have not read. Sundara Ramaswamy, a Tamil writer, had probably the biggest library in my hometown. He is also my grandfather. And yet for years – all through adolescence in fact – I did not read one book from his collection.
My dose of Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock presents, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins came from elsewhere – cousins, dad, a lending library, everywhere except from grandpa.
There is a good reason for this. His collection had the classics in it. Like say, War and Peace. I plodded through some 250 pages before giving up. It was a killing bore. He had Carlos Castaneda. Even my dad loved this guy’s books. But as a 12-year-old when I tried reading them, I had the most bizarre feeling. I could understand every word but no sentences.
After a while, I understood that there was another world – that of literary books. The differences between the two kinds still escape me, but there are literary books for children too. Like The Prince or even good old Crusoe.
And oddly enough I wasn’t introduced to the literary world by any English book. When I read English I kept moving on to Chase, Crichton and the like. It was a Tamil book – one my grandpa’s own – J.J. Sila Kurippugal that introduced me to that world. That opened up a few shelves from the library that had remained elusive for so long.
One day I asked Grandpa about the books he had in the library. He asked me what my favourite book was? I named a book by Sheldon, The Other Side of Midnight, which I had read some 20 times with feverish excitement. To my surprise, he wasn’t dimissive of the Sheldon book at all. He said that even Sheldon would have shaped my reading and language in some way.

“But experiences that such books offer stop at some point. But many books I have try to go further and explore new territory,” he said. I wasn’t so much impressed by the way he defined books in his library as much as the way he spoke about the writers I was reading, who wrote pulp or detective fiction.
That’s because SuRa wasn’t that kind of a writer at all. None of the devices Sheldon or any of the other writers I named use can be seen in any of SuRa’s work. Many of the stories are not even plot driven. Neither are they laced with sex. And many of SuRa’s stories do explore new territory.
I later found that he shared my opinion of the classics. Or perhaps a widespread snobbish opinon of the classics. After seeing me read Catcher in the Rye, he asked me how I liked it. I said it not like a classic and it wasn’t boring at all. He had just that year completed Kuzhanthaigal Pengal Aangal. “Perhaps, I should write a boring novel. Then everyone would say I have written a classic,” he said with a smile.

The library that I so admired wasn’t made in a day. From his trips around the world, grandpa brought back books, often choosing them above other things he needed to carry.
Just a year before he died, grandpa was able to move the libary – scattered among various rooms in the house – to one large hall on the first floor in his house in Nagercoil. On many days, he would stand in the library flipping through the books. Like many of the books he has written, the books he owned are also a part of his legacy. At least they are now. Last Saturday, the library was thrown open to the public. The address is here: 669, K.P.Road, Nagercoil – 629001.