Mdeii Life - Anand Krishnamoorthi's blog
Saturday, February 28, 2004
And before I forget, here are some pictures from my Recce.
Duduk or Doudouk
Thanks mostly to Kingsley�s blogmela plug, Google thought that I was an authority on the instrument. My romance with the Duduk (Doudouk) isn�t over. Michael Stephen, the caretaker of the Chennai Armenian Church, had been to Armenia recently and was very kind and thoughtful enough to get me a copy of Djivan Gasparyan�s CD of Duduk music. I also got a CD of Ararat, a film set in Armenia. Thanks Michael!
Lord of the Rings
I finally jumped on to the bandwagon today. Just watched the first film. They have special shows today and tomorrow for everybody to catch up with things in time for the Return of the King. I feared that the rerun prints would be terrible, but not at all: they were in fact pretty good. Nevertheless, apart from the virgin LOTRers like me, most of the hall was filled with people who seemed to know all the lines by heart.
I haven�t read the book, but I have read the Hobbit. The film is definitely not a filmmaker�s film, and it seems, that just like the ring, the story has a life and a will of its own. It wants to be told and it will be told irrespective of the filmmaker�s skill.
Finished reading it�finally! More about my experience in detail later.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Tamil Nadu on the Arabian Sea and Kerala on the Bay of Bengal
What appears to be a warped understanding of geography is the speciality of the Kanyakumaari district. The Travancore royals had their palace at Padmanabhapuram and the conquering Dutch had a seafront fort at Vattakottai on the Bay of Bengal (legend has it that both these places, about 25 kilometres apart were originally connected by an underground tunnel system). Bartering away Palakkad district to Kerala, we Tamils got to keep Kanyakumaari. Almost everybody is fluent in both the states� languages, and have the most interesting Christian names I have heard. The locals are famous for the typical lilt in their Tamil and their vocabulary is rather unpolluted, sometimes almost classical. The fishing villages dotted with churches and red tiled-roof houses on the coast, from the heights of Yaanappaarai, look like they are off postcards from the Mediterranean. Just one question, do they have coconut trees like these in Spain? In Thengapattinam is the PoLi (estuary). Boy oh boy! One of the highlights of this trip for me has to be the evening swim at the PoLi. As the sun set on the Arabian Sea, and with the seasonal narrow sandbar blocking the mouth of the river, a dip in the freshwater pool took me to paradise and beyond. We also took a boat ride up the river. While the firangs get to pay thousands of rupees for the same thing in Kerala, we got everything for free (Of course you need, as we did, to personally know some locals: the ones with strong forearms, convex torsos, friendly demeanour and the guts to beat the same out of anybody in the wink of an eye). Another speciality of these strong men is their singular ability to empty bottles of �medicinal� Arishtam. It is a strong drink with lots of herbs that goes down the throat very warm; and mixed with a little bit of spirit, makes violent philosophers out of happy fishermen. I have not had too much time to know more about their social lives, but they do seem to have a distinct taste for things. I heard that they get their kids the best clothes their meagre earnings buy. What really took me by surprise was that Nithil�s friend�s father was a rather keen connoisseur of classic Tamil films. An admirer of Kamal Haasan, his favourite Kamal film is Kurudippunal. The next time another Kodambakkam �pundit� talks about the preference of the �mass� & �C� audience, I will sure whack him as usual; this time though with the backing of a fisherman turned bodybuilder turned schoolteacher.
The other big thing about this trip was the strenuous climb up Marutthuvaal Malai. The view is worth all the effort. From up there, you can see the southern tip of India, the Ocean, the Bay, the Sea, the end of the Ghats, the mouth of a river, a large part of the small district, a small part of the neighbouring district, the rock memorial to a Hindu philosopher and an effeminate statue of a legendary Tamil Scholar. At the hill�s summit, standing at a height of so many hundred feet, on a rock only as big as small room, there are 360 degrees of pure visual wonder. Two pieces of info for the aspiring traveller: There is absolutely no barricade of any sort around the summit and the wind can get a little brisk. The second thing is to try and do what we did: brave the scary images of Siddhars (shaivite hermits) living at the base of the hill, brave the scarier thoughts of invisible loose rock, and brave the scariest sounds in the pre-dawn darkness. Starting the climb in the early hours of the morning (more like the late hours of the night), you can get to the top just when the sun rises. It is a remarkable sight for sure. This exercise in fighting fear can also save you from the heat of the midday sun, as the trek/climb-on-all-fours can get pretty exhausting. If the way up is hard on the lungs, the climb down gets very hard on the legs. The path, marked with painted arrows on the rocks, is very steep at spots.
One of the last places we visited in the district was Muttam, the hometown of a cart-pusher, one Mr. J Panki Raj, who of course, is now famous in Chennai for things altogether different. He no longer uses his full name, just his initials.
Thus transpired a weekend �working holiday�. The holiday part was enjoyable; the work part, Hmm� we should soon know.
The Fussy Vegetarian
Nithil�s parents at Naagarcoil were great hosts, but my food habits greatly hassled them; likewise Nithil�s friend�s parents in MuLLurthurai, the fishing village where our film is to be shot. In fact, my hosts seemed to be more worried about my food than I was. I of course tried not to appear too fussy, but I sure would have come across as some sort of creature from the pastures that could miraculously live on �plants�. BTW, the oysters were great; so I heard.
Bharath and Nithil had both warned me about the possibility of me being turned away by the smells of the seafront. The memories of the smells of Madras Kuppams suddenly flashed pass my nose. Yet for the sake of �professionalism�, I agreed to take the risk expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the fishing hamlets, the boats, the nets, the people etc. were all remarkably clean. Walking through the streets of the village, I did not smell anything offending. Even the Karuvaadu that was freshly laid to dry in front of me, seemed to have only a mild odour, yet that somehow seemed to send my friends into an intoxicated tizzy. In fact, the entire district of Kanyakumaari is very clean. The only dirty spots are the Naagarcoil bus stand and the tourist spot of Kanyakumaari; and they are so because of obvious reasons: outsiders.
The trip ended on a gastronomic treat. I got to attend a Christian Naadaar engagement in Kerala, and the family being a little traditional, served only one chicken dish, while the rest of the plantain leaf was filled with all the things you can think of made with coconut kernel and coconut oil.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Off to Naagarcoil
Tomorrow I leave for Naagarcoil reconnoitring for a shoot.
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.
Long time no write?
Yyep! I have not been busy, neither have I been unwell for too long. I just thought I needed a break, and I needed a muse: Got both!
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