Saturday, February 07, 2004
What better muse than a good movie? It is quite a coincidence that I am reading Kalki�s Ponniyin Selvan right now, for I found quite a few �touches� in Virumandi as well. So many people have talked about the narration. The distinct thing is that, as Lazy puts it, there are not �different versions� at all, just different �selections�. I just hope this seals the stupid talk about it being like Rashomon. That�s the problem with opening DVD parlours by the dozen. Every other fellow thinks he knows international cinema (but that�s another debate altogether).
Another issue also right up there is the stance against capital punishment. Well! Hmm� that seems to be the ethical standpoint of Angela Kaathamutthu, and nobody else. Even the film does not believe in pacifism. In fact, the film �moralistically� prefers to sentence the villains to a rather gory death. (Dealt by� fate?). Staying with the discussion of the abstract, this film, of all recent Kamal films, seems to be the most overtly religious and the least spiritual. In fact this is the most fatalistic film I have seen recently and gone on to not dislike.
Lazy told me about some reference to Kubrick, but I have to watch the movie again to spot what exactly it is. I was very pleased to see a square frame at the start of the credits, but that was not to be it for the rest of the movie. As expected, Kamal Haasan�s filmmaking skills are pretty evident in his use of the third dimension, his craftsman like detailing, and his pacing of the script. So much so that I feel Kamal should stop acting. Kamal Haasan, the actor has often been the lone adventurer standing courageously on the very frontiers of Tamil cinema, exposing himself to the harshest of conditions and weathering through it. Result: he is weathered, beaten, overexposed, trite, unattractive and old. The rest of the actors, especially the supporting cast and the extras were exceptional.
Compared to regular Tamil movie fare and even some of Kamal�s earlier movies, this film is better on the technical side. But I still would suggest that Kamal Hassan use those aruvaals on some of these people: the film grader and timer, the boom operator, the location sound recordist, the sound editor, the optical effects supervisor et al. but I would not blame them too much. It is how we have been used to doing things in this industry. We need to go a long way; I am only happy Kamal is taking the necessary first steps. One thing: even if you use a blimped camera and scream for silence on the set, make sure you have a directional microphone with good frequency response, and check levels. Apparently none of this has been done and the location sounds seem to have the coarseness of a to-be-dubbed-in pilot track. At least some scenes seem to have certain parts dubbed in, else Virumaandi would have gone the Hey Ram way. I wonder what he meant by the THX sign in the end though.
I was definitely not enthused by the protracted love scenes and Kasaappu Kadai gore. The moonlight effect was well achieved. Sometimes, like in Hey Ram, Kamal�s symbolisms can get a little too unwieldy, but that is a matter of taste and I have no right to complain about the dream morphs and the Rajiv Gandhi, Bhagat Singh picture backgrounds.
I just have one hang-up with the climactic sequences. They seemed to focus too much on atmospherics and too little on emotion. Just a comparison with the climactic chase from Stanley Kubrick�s The Shining; that was a pursuit sequence that worked a lot more emotionally with a maniacal Jack Torrance giving chase with the garden maze working as an additional source of atmospheric anxiety. In Virumaandi, the pursuit is atmospheric, non-claustrophobic and despite not lacking in excitement, is a lot less tense. The labyrinthine jail premises is well devised, yet, it could have worked better if the human emotional element was designed like in The Shining. It is an old punching bag for me, but probably the cinemascope frame does not lend itself to emotional storytelling as much as a much squarer frame can. Atmosphere tends to dominate in a wide frame.
On the whole, a whole lot of positive lessons for the Tamil film industry. It is indeed disheartening to see that while the National press seems to lap up with delight everything Karan Johar bothers to defecate, they get fussy about what we guys produce. A good movie with some unnecessary sex, violence and heroics, but even without these things, the movie would have been great. Ah! And before I forget, the unnerving violin theme piece is quite simply Ilayaraja. Definitely not for the kids: and one more piece of advice�make sure you are not sitting next to a newly married couple in the audience. Young grooms have a propensity to burst into artificial burst of laughter when confronted with extreme gore in order to hide their natural sense of terror. The unnaturally loud laughter drums out most of the on-screen sound and can almost always be followed by even more loud sermons to the waiflike wives about the intricacies of the aruvaa vettu.
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