Monthly Archives: February 2008

Raw talent on display in violent Anjathe

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Mysskin rides the new wave of Tamil films with this effective police procedural, buddy movie and gut wrenching emotional drama rolled into one. Must watch movie. 

Anjathe, Mysskin’s new movie about two friends, one who becomes a cop and one who should have been a cop, is a cocktail mix of explosive action, thrilling sequences and gut wrenching emotions.

This is the year’s best Tamil movie so far and will remain among its best. This is also the work of an ambitious and stridently commercial director, who is at the peak of his game.

The movie, earlier titled Aruvathu Sinam, begins with a deceptively simple, but innovatively shot stunt staged in a corporation park. Right from the first low-angle shot of a blue sky into which thugs walk in, Mysskin waves his talent like a red flag. Ten minutes into the movie, he has managed to grab you by the collar and pull you headlong into the narrative.

Naren (Chitiram Pesuthadi, Pallikoodam) and debutante Ajmal Ameer play the two friends, and much of the movie revolves around the intertwined fates of the two, as they are pitted in a cat-and-mouse game. Classmates Sathya (Naren) and Kiruba are both sons of cops and live opposite to each other in a police colony. When the movie begins, Sathya is a rowdy and Kiruba is studying hard to be a sub-inspector.

In a quirky twist of fate, Sathya becomes the cop and his friend, who believes that he lost despite his hard work to his friend’s street-smart ways, turns his bitter rival. Many of the early sequences are earthy and simple in sharp contrast to the post-interval manic speed.

Naren plays Sathya as an inarticulate, angry young man with a penchant for violence. This hides his naivety and soft underbelly that can’t stomach his new life as a policeman. On his first day at work, a man who walks into a police station carrying the head of his cheating wife in a bag, sends our hero straight to bed. His father, the head constable, advises his son while polishing his shoes to keep his eyes open to horror. “The policeman lives with murder,” he tells his son.

Ajmal’s breakthrough performance as Kiruba is of a man who slowly, but unwittingly enters a life of crime. His face is often a canvas for the director to the show man in moral dilemma.

As a trainee cop, Sathya is soon on the trail of a gang of kidnappers, which abduct girls of rich families for ransom. The screenplay unfolds like a game of poker in the hands of a devilishly clever player. It is quite sometime before Mysskin has assembled the cards, but once he does, he plays it right.

Prasanna, in a marked departure from his usual chocolate boy role, plays a serial rapist and the kingpin of the kidnapping gang. Prasanna’s histrionic talents may just fall short of portraying implacable evil, but this is a boisterous and courageous performance from the actor. Much of time, his character Daya has to hide his morbid desire to abuse underage girls behind his long hair.

Prasanna provokes just the right amount of disgust and stealthily enters the movie only to retain a vice-like grip on the proceedings towards the climax. Daya’s desperate inventiveness in the face of the police hunt provides many of the movie’s thrills.

Some of the action sequences are brilliant. Naren’s first battle as a lone cop standing in the way of masked killers in a hospital is heroic. But it is also a study of a cop in an unfamiliar crisis. Having to face killers, Sathya discovers that he, indeed, is a hero.

The director also displays remarkable acumen in rooting this crime thriller in a compelling and realistic sociological background. Many of his criminals are victims of life. A flower seller, who helps Sathya rescue a dying man, has a nylon cover wrapped around a leg wound. Such details fill Mysskin’s canvas. Even when wanting to entertain, he isn’t insular to being sensitive.

Sundar C. Babu scores the music, which keeps pace with the editing, often providing the viewer with aural clues. But the songs, particularly a dream sequence and the mandatory post-interval item number, are weak links. Mysskin cans them like a director in a hurry to hide his compromises.

The filmmaker also reveals a penchant for slow motion montage (influence of Eisenstein?), which he uses often with devastating impact. A ransom payoff sequence is shot like a visual counterpart to a symphony, and sometimes in the midst of the trippy editing, it’s hard to locate the characters zipping past one another.

In these sequences, cinematographer Mahesh Muthuswamy displays his variety. His camera, which remains largely functional, turns flamboyant at command. In one superbly realised sequence, the story is told in one long, low-angle shot of the characters entering and leaving a house. All through this sequence, only the feet of the actors are shown. In fact, the movie is realised as a series of long shots, each one signaling a new twist in the screenplay. A sugarcane forest where the kidnappers take refuge during the film’s climax is beautifully evoked.

Actor Pandiarajan, superbly cast against type as one of the kidnappers, delivers a performance that virtually reintroduces the actor to movie audiences. Even if you saw Aan Pavam and Anjathe back to back, you will be hard put to identify the actor in both the movies.

Vijayalakshmi plays Kiruba’s sister, who is in a quite, fierce and blindly trusting love with Sathya. In the little screen time she has, the actress does a commendable job.

With Chitiram Pesuthadi, Mysskin announced his arrival as a name to reckon with. Anjathe is a tastier second course from the director.

 

Pulp Fiction

I saw Pulp Fiction for probably the 10th time over the last weekend and I now believe that the movie, a darling of the Internet generation, is finally losing its charm for me. If I once believed that Quentin Tarantino was the final name in movie making, I am now willing to go beyond his most well-known classic. Tarantino is still a big force, no doubt. But perhaps it is time we took that painful crown off his head. Time those king’s robes came off. Time we saw past the amazing dialogue and the layered, complex screenplay and looked at what the movie really tells us. I recently saw Godard’s My Life To Live and I wonder if that film wasn’t more complex, more meaningful?

Was it or am I confusing Pulp Fiction’s crowd-pleasing, wildly entertaining aspects with its possible shallowness?

P.S: I still think it’s a challenge to write every second sentence in a full-length screenplay with the word fuck in it.

In Cold Blood

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In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s non-fictional novel on the ghastly murder of the Cutter family in 1959, also happens to be the book that launched “new journalism”. On November 15, 1959, Richard (Dick) Hickock and Perry Smith, two ex-convicts murdered Herbert Smith, an influential and widely respected small town farmer of Kansas, his wife Bonnie, who was depressive, their daughter 16-year-old Nancy, and son 15-year-old Kenyon.

The duo had believed that the rich farmer owned a safe, which they would rob. However, the information provided to them by a fellow convict at the Kansas State Prison turned out to be wrong. Perry later told Capote that he thought that his victim Herb was a nice gentleman and was soft spoken. “I thought so until I cut his throat,” Perry recalled.

Capote begins his story a couple of days before the murders. Using extensive interviews with the townsfolk, he puts together the last day of the family in astonishing detail. Capote’s research is exhaustive and overwhelming. In the film in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Capote, the writer is shown as boasting of an over 90 per cent recall. This means that he can recall over 90 per cent of whatever is told to him in the exact words as spoken to him.

In the late 90s, Modern Library put together a list of great fictional and non-fictional works. In Cold Blood is featured in that list. I have been wanting to read the book ever since. Now I have both read the book (about 10 pages are left) and seen two movies connected to book: In Cold Blood, a black and white film, and Capote.

If you are a journalist or love creativity of any sort, this book is a must read for you.

 

(The other great exponent of new journalism was Tom Wolfe. It seems a crime not to mention his name in a post about In Cold Blood)

Interview with Vijay Anand, organiser, proto.in

The third edition of Proto.in, a biannual two-day event that brings together in one platform technology startups, venture capitalists, angel investors and other assorted hand holders, will begin in the city on Thursday.

Up to 15 companies, including two from the US run by NRIs and one from South Africa, will present their products and try and talk their way into getting funds.

Mr Vijay Anand, 27, who first mooted the idea of having this unique event for startups believes that “if you are product company in India, Proto.in is the best place to be”.

Mr Vijay dreams of giving Indians a Silicon Valley-like ecosystem where it’s easy to start a company and build and launch a product. His event, loosed modelled on DEMO held in the Valley, will be a morale booster for young entrepreneurs, who can gain some traction for their companies and provide some publicity for their products.

For instance, in the July 2007 edition of Proto.in, Smart Pundits, a Bangalore-based company was successfully able to showcase its smart headlamp controller, a device that automatically dims the headlights of a car on sensing the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.

“The guys at Bangalore were able to produce a product for Rs 3,000, which took thousands of dollars for Mercedes Benz to produce. Today, Benz has tied up with these guys,” said Mr Vijay, recounting the story of one of the many success stories that Proto.in helped script.

“However, we tell companies not to expect to walk in with a product and walk out with the money. This is one of the first disclaimers I make,” he said. “Deals do happen. In fact, they happen all the time. But this is not all about the money, but about the validation an entrepreneur gets from speaking about his product to an informed audience,” Mr Vijay said.

HCL and Wipro are among the companies that have registered to attend the event. “They will possibly be looking to acquire companies presenting at Proto.in. A company like Microsoft makes 200 acquisitions a year. That’s almost a company a day if you discount the weekends,” he said.

Mr Vijay, a graduate in software engineering from the University of Ottawa, started his first company when he was still in school. “I was 16. When I told my dad, he became very happy because that was something he always wanted to do. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he said.

Later after launching Lead Step Technologies in Canada, the company that he struck gold with, Mr Vijay came to India and straightaway confronted the infamous red tape. “I could start a company in Canada in 15 minutes. The Registrar of Companies in India told me at that time that they will take three months to do the same here,” Mr Vijay said. And that’s the story of how Proto.in was born. “Instead of whining about it, I gradually realised I had to do something to help companies here,” he said.

Today an impressive list of entrepreneurs has assembled behind Proto.in. Among them are Mr Gopal Srinivasan of TVS Electronics, Ravi Narayan of Mentor Platforms and Atul Chitnis, who best known for organising foss.in, one of India’s biggest events on the technology calendar.

Proto.in is sponsored by Google, Sun Microsystems and Yahoo India among others. It has connected 57 companies with venture capitalists and industry experts. As many as 40 of those companies have gone on to make an annual turnover of Rs 1 crore.

Proto.in charges Rs 10,000 for companies to register and Rs 3,000 for participants. Registrations for the event, which will take place at Hotel Asiana on the Old Mahabalipuram Road in the city, are however full and have been closed. 

(A version of this appeared in Deccan Chronicle on January 17. Sorry for the delay in posting it here. )