Friday, June 04, 2004
possible spoilers ahead
Hmm� With all the things I have been hearing about it recently, I went in to the theatre expecting very little, and unfortunately a little late, but as Lazy says, neither was cause for concern.
IMHO, it is one of the better movies that I have seen in some time. I like it. The common and regular complaints one would have to make against Mani Ratnam can always be made. Most of them are justified, but the people who have most against him are from the left-leaning intellectual circle in Chennai and I have lots of friends there. Risking making more enemies, I stand by Mani Ratnam like I always have.
Somehow it appears to me that in Aaytha Ezhutthu (I like to spell it that way), Mani Ratnam seems to have shaken off most of his (typically Tamil cinema) political na�vet�. Or has he at all, could it be true that we are somehow accustomed to expect a degree of �armchairness" from him in all his movies that it can almost go unnoticed this time?
Now to the positives. What I really appreciate about Mani Ratnam, and what makes me an ardent admirer and loyalist is his dynamism. Even though there used to be something called the Mani Ratnam �style� or �stamp�, he keeps trying new things and attempting newer styles. This is something Tamil cinema has hardly seen. When adopting the new too, he has refrained from being imitative or pretentious. For example in Aaytha Ezhutthu, as much as the three principal characters are from three different social strata, they are from three different �generations� (generations as a figurative). To think of such wide ranging characters is truly remarkable as any other director could have overplayed the differences on screen if the characters were poorly defined for lack of insight and dynamism.
Coming to the very played-up �crux� of the movie, I have to admit that I have not seen many of the so called �inspirations� for this film, but I strongly feel that most of the stuff is original and they come from real-life rather than being stolen or borrowed from others. Rashomon� hmm not quite! This movie is more about �what later� than �what if�. Nevertheless, A E is not though-provoking in that sense and neither is it meant to be (I think). It is a straightforward narration of a story. Then why at all the device of the narrative confluence? After all, it is neither a moment of truth nor a turning point for two of the three characters. Then why play it up and publicise it and use teasers and wordy websites to give background info? What about Napier Bridge and the �moment�? Hitchcock called it the �MacGuffin�. It is not something that is vital to the screenplay, yet that is somehow the fulcrum. It is a narrative device that merely exists to give credibility and direction. It does not influence it in any way. But usually, we (as the audience) are used to MacGuffins being broken only in the end, but here, the MacGuffin is broken, rebroken and revisited. Just a motif without apparent symbolism. A queer case of Kurosawa meets Hitchcock.
Probably the real reason behind the three parallel narratives is to show how each of the characters with their palpable weaknesses are heroes and lovers and leading men in their own right. Then, this is intended to provoke (like Rashomon did for the notion of �what is the truth�) thoughts about the notion of �what is right� or �who is right�.
The sheer bulk and weightiness of the story and its politics, removes the profundity from the last shot of Inba�s forlorn face. This is where it fails to be Rashomon. It is true that Madhavan with his (among other things) unfalteringly clean English makes for a lousy street-type, but any other typical porikki(lout)-looking actor would have come across more defined as a �villain� rather than as a �possible good-guy� with his public image. This is where this generation of actors misses somebody like a Kamal Hassan. If only he were young? Kamal Hassan would have been a convincing thug and bad-guy, at the same time been too adorable for the audience to label him a villain.
Here I would like to digress from Aaytha Ezhutthu and talk about Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro and Jake LaMotta. Inba�s character is unique, even among the annals of the famous anti-heroes like Dalapathi�s Surya and Michael Corleone. He more closely resembles Jake LaMotta, played superbly by Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese�s Raging Bull. He can be a loving husband, a good man, and at the same time, be an ambitious cut-throat and a wife-beater. Very complex an antihero, too complex for Tamil Cinema where all antiheroes are conventionally nice-guy �Robin Hoods�; and too complex for Madhavan: the ideal role for DeNiro and probably, Kamal Hassan. (Even Scorsese missed DeNiro for an equally challenging role in Gangs of New York).
So despite Madhavan being a misfit, he was probably (and by virtue of a contract) the better choice to play Inba Sekar. He did in fact try his best, but the very chocolate hero�s image that was vital in boosting his �lovability� quotient, was his undoing. As a result, the movie looses its Rashomon value of being thought provoking. This is most probably the biggest failing ofAaytha Ezhutthu. It has been a success for other reasons. But could we at least take solace in the fact that these �other� reasons are as unconventional and are not the regular songs, sex and violence?
As far as the songs, sex and violence go, I am glad that one of my earlier assumptions has been close to correct. There are only two or three �songs�, the rest being incidentals and themes. So, as I don�t care about the �songs� I can wholeheartedly congratulate Rahman for his excellent background score. (Did I hear a Duduk?) Never since Iruvar, have I seen Rahman do a better background score.
Done with the songs, what about the sex? Just about OK� pretty dignified and complimentary (unlike the gluttonous one-sided affairs choreographed by Kamal Hassan). The violence, for once I felt, was reasonably permissible, yet, I found the climactic Wrestle-Mania� on Napier Bridge too protracted for more logical rather than ethical reasons.
Also the three styles / variations in visual narrative (from colour scheme to shutter angle to ramps, to editing pacing to camera movement) that have been widely publicised have no meaning. They simply are not apparent, or if too subtle, don�t work on any subliminal level either. Frankly that too was for publicity only I guess. If it were not for the idea of an equitable trinity, the conflict of variation etc. made out in the publicity, the trailers, the website and most importantly in the title, (add to this Mani Ratnam himself mentioning Rashomon) I would never have thought of interpreting this movie as a �brave� attempt at provoking though about �what is right�. I would have simply called it a nice straightforward movie about one man with conviction, another with a conscience call and the third with neither. This could still be the intended case. Then, this is wonderful!
Ah! Before I forget, Bharathiraja, (though inconsistently written for, and very consistently portrayed), is a find. Why the heck did that man go into direction in the first place? Heck he makes for one very slick actor.
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