Sunday, July 31, 2005
Anniyan, Hitchcock, cinema, politics and yet another sexual metaphor
I never knew that there were as many Tamilians in Bristol. Of-course, considering that it was screened in fairly decent-sized cinema, it did seem like a small crowd. I have also never seen such a clean projection print of any Tamil film...
Isn't it terribly obvious that I am trying to avoid talking about the movie as much as possible? Considering the effort we took in getting to the cinema complex (quite a bus ride from the city centre) and having spent quite a bit of money on tickets, popcorn, cola etc (I got off light on both counts: student discount on my ticket, and a friend bought all the food), we wished we were a little drunk as well. We'd have enjoyed the film a lot more.
The first things that came to mind while and after the film were those little posts on Nilu's blog. I guess I can use the very same examples while talking about Anniyan as well.
While I consider the movie to be among the worst I have seen in quite a while, I do so for certain specific reasons (and don't they all!). I take NO exception to the fact that this story is a rehash of Gentleman and Indian and also to the fact that it is full of naive and misdirected political idealism perfected into an artform in Tamil cinema, so much that most actual political drama and rhetoric in our colourful state actually feeds from and into cinema like in some far-eastern mystic motif (I can even imagine snakes devouring each-other in the picture).
Now for some good points about the film, for which I might sound (and erroneously so) like an apologist for mediocrats (ah! thats a nice word): I for one keep harping on about the fact that in today's world of globalised media, it would be difficult in getting away with the sort of blatant plagiarism that Tamil cinema has been practicing for decades. I also keep insisting like a nice politician that it is the people who decide if a film is good or bad, and not the critics. And insist that when the audience is exposed to what us self-proclaimed 'experts' call good cinema, they would soon stop elevating regressive trash like Sakalakala Vallavan into super hit status. Anniyan I have heard, is a big hit. So again like a good politician I shall try to tailor my ideology to make it sound more attuned to a reality that surprises and confounds me.
Why is Anniyan a hit? Maybe I might actually find some valid reasons and continue to remain faithful to the assertion that I DO NOT believe in the statement: nobody can know what makes a hit (That is one statement I hate being used in Tamil cinema circles, as I believe many creeps hide behind it!). I hope not to contradict myself in the process (also like a good politician), so if I do, please point it out to me!
The example I continue to state, as I did in a comment to Nilu's post in that of Hitchcock. As long as you keep giving the audience constant thrills and keep them on edge, you can be cocksure that they are not going to bother about motivation or plot holes. What I do find disturbing is the notion that if a filmmaker masters this kind of storytelling, he or she shows scant respect for the intelligence of the audience. On the contrary, I appreciate the guts of the filmmaker in trusting the audience.
Shankar has guts. He rehashes his own story; he has a silly logic to events; displays a dumbed-down version of society; stages elaborately colourful song and dance routines; and he overdoes all this to such an extent that the film is almost self-parody. Does Shankar think that every member of the audience is a fool to fall for this? Does he think that with doctors mouthing detergent commercial jargon, people would be impressed? Does he think that people actually think that investigating officers go to work in fancy dress for no reason? Or pray, does Shankar think that people would actually believe that the answers to social ills lie in vigilante terrorism? Or pray harder, considering that this is an oft-repeated theme in his films, does he himself believe that a violent hero is the one who'll actually change the face of this world? Pray mighty hard now, by making each of those films a hit, do Tamil people think likewise? The answer to all this is (an albeit soft) no!
Shankar might display a typical political naïveté that links cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu. MGR became chief minister, but can anybody replicate it? Will Vijaykanth think that he can nurse political ambitions simply because he fights crime and corruption in his films? In fact, it takes a lot more than 'image', and the surprising thing is that we who vote them in, (and by extension, Shankar who writes such stories) might actually not know that politics is not so simple. Vijaykanth could become chief minister, but not even he or his individual voters might know that he has become one because of 'other' reasons. It is wholly another post that could talk about individual ignorance, but collective enlightenment (the ramification for our ideas of democracy need to be explored), so I shall now get back to Anniyan.
So while the previous paragraph might explain why the 'no' is soft, I'll elaborate on why the answer was 'no' in the first place. Shankar is a naturally gifted storyteller. While Hitchcock knew why he was one, Shankar might not! (The 'might' is strong). Most Tamil filmmakers (or for that matter, many spontaneously successful artists the world over, throughout history) never get to understand their natural gifts. Some like Mozart die before decay (it is only a matter of speculation that he did not realise the reasons for his genius... or for that matter can anyone completely understand it at all?) Others decay before death because they try to replicate their work badly, simply because they misunderstand the reason's for their success and most often suppress their real genius in favour of the more obvious manifestations of it.
I have never really got a chance to talk to Shankar about his storytelling the way Truffaut got to Hitchcock. Maybe Shankar is somebody who does in fact know himself well.
Does Shankar have scant respect for the intelligence of the audience? Or to better put the question, do you have to hate yourself for enjoying Anniyan? Definitely not! In my case, the film I often refer to as the one that fascinated me into the Tamil film industry was Sakalakala Vallavan. It is most certainly regressive trash, certainly not a classic, but at its time, was a very good display of simple and effective storytelling. Anniyan is its modern equivalent. These films can be hits, but never be timeless (finally self-proclaimed 'good taste' film commentators can sleep in peace), as storytelling is an artform that changes continuously. Some of Hitchcock's films though remain timeless, as the filmmaker knew himself you see! (Plus, films like Vertigo, were much more than just cleverly told stories)
While watching Anniyan, the audience knows that what they watch is utter nonsense, and the filmmaker too knows that the audience knows. It is only us in the middle that cannot explain terrible super hits! Shankar knows his strengths and weaknesses, and knows storytelling. An example from the film can illustrate better.
A common complaint against Anniyan is the lack of proper 'motivation' for events. Years ago, Hitchcock came up with the concept of a MacGuffin-the nonsense motivation: absolutely insignificant motive to drive the narrative forward. Social corruption is but Shankar's MacGuffin. It need not be strong; it is how to move forward from there that matters. He skilfully makes the Anniyan murders very very gruesome, that the audience is immediately caught up in events and story-beats. But forcing the audience to try squirm away from the film, he again skilfully has caught them in the diegesis. Think of Brechtian alienation. Anniyan rolls his eyes: almost funny! (the audience now gets outside the diegesis) but he immediately inflicts terrible violence, where he forces the audience to want to shy away from what they have now come to believe is actual violence. This is master filmmaking. The alienating effects of obvious makebelieve actually help in pulling the audience into the story. Shankar is a master of the ostentatiously artificial.
Theatrics work simply because they are theatrics. Cinema works simply because it is cinematic. Not because it is real. But then, why is it not universally liked. Why do I hate the film? Just like we might not immediately know why we like a film, we might not know why we hate it too.
I hate the film because it for one, has so many possibilities left unexplored. So many more storytelling tricks that the filmmaker could have employed to have actually made it a classic. The ones Hitchcock used to make a hollow piece of yarn like North By Northwest a classic.
Shankar has not exploited well, his own skills in fantasising the starkly real. I still feel that his Boys experiment was worth it. He tried to use his aforementioned skills to full extent, but soon realised that his strength was his ability to relate escapism to reality and his weakness was in being unable to pace the storytelling to match the change in his story, theme and treatment. I hoped he would have learnt from Boys and come up with a nice way of narrating mature social commentary—the story providing the backbone for an entertaining superstory. But instead, disappointingly, Shankar had chosen to completely abandon ironic social commentary: which he's so good at, in favour of harking back to the Vijaykanth or SA Chandrasekar brand of social naivete of his earlier films.
The other gripes: For one, themes of MPD, or Schizophrenia (mind you, they are two different mental disorders) are not strangers to a Tamil audience. Who will not remember Marma Thesam? But Shankar's exposition of its details resembled the terrible architect sequence in the Matrix sequel. All substance and no style!
Plus, I take total exception to Vikram's portrayal of Ramanujam alias Ambi. It was proper bollocks... not becoming of an exceptionally hardworking and talented actor. But, why do people like his acting? Simply because cinema is cinematic. We want to see hamming in a Shankar film; a film that has roads painted like saries, lorries painted like dolls, and cheap song words like ‘...Nokia blah blah’. If Vikram had done the very kind of acting in a much more realistic sort of film, then the same audience would have called the bluff—termed it overacting. Maybe I am contradicting myself? If I think his acting was appropriate, then why do I not like it? Simply because his overacting was misdirected! If he really wanted to have exaggerated the simplicity and docile nature of Ambhi, he need not have strapped on a paunch and propped up a 'velakkenai' face. He could have left the camera and editing to act for him. Remember Lev Kuleshov? But, yet again maybe it is just my middle-rung 'taste' that still finds it jarring.
On a related note, I simply feel that brahmin violence is something that only a cunningly knowledgeable filmmaker can exploit. Kamal Hassan attempted it in Hey Ram! His brahmin terrorist is a typicaly middle-class guy with middle-class values. But Kamal Hassan was too well built to explore that dimension. Though, Saket Ram's violence is much more internal. His violence is that of a small-made 'thair saadam', vegetarian, 'saambhar': the violence of the cowardly; the guts of the physically weak; the psychological frenzy of the conformist. This is a character full of contradictory, and hence, very theatrical dimensions (in fact, for those who grew up in or around brahmin families, you can actually find these characters everyday—they are very much real). Something left unexploited in this film.
My mom spoke to me about the film and told me that she found the sound-track very jarring. I am not even going to talk about that aspect of Tamil cinema.
Why else do we, the more refined, hate this film? Simply because it confounds us. In having learnt to make and watch 'classics' I have failed to understand the dynamics of the fleeting successes! I am sure with poorer marketing, Anniyan could have failed miserably, but it has been successfully marketed (correctly) as an escapist potboiler—a film that knows what the audience wants in today's world, knows its politics, knows its history, has resonances in contemporary fashions.
However much we'd like to believe that us South Indians are isolated from the events of the world today, all of us grapple with exactly the same issues and indulge in mild fantasies of alternatives and new-fangled dogmas for bringing back order: we try to deal with with increasing cross pollination and anarchy, be it through terrorism or through Musharraffism. Elsewhere in the world, repercussions are actually more manifest, but thank god we guys have cinema, we docilely masturbate away our libido instead of going in for the whole revolutionary gangbang!
As I feel, "Among the powerless, those who have not chance to fuck, masturbate; those who have no choice but to fuck, have orgies. Among the powerful, they bugger before being buggered. Yet there are others, like the 'tasteful' middle-rungers like us, who have access to all, the choice as well and maybe even the power to be powerless, loathe all the others and remain frustrated celibates."
Comments to Anniyan, Hitchcock, cinema, politics and yet another sexual metaphor
Yeah - maybe there is a pressing need for a research on the behavioral patterns of the Tamil Movie fan...
posted by Nilu2:43 pm, August 01, 2005
displays a dumbed-down version of society... That, my friend, is the bane of our movies and also our contemporary literature (vernacular included). I've suffered Yendamuri Virendranath (Telugu) without realising that I was actually suffering.
posted by Suman5:41 pm, August 01, 2005
You nailed it on the head when you said that they don't respect their audience when they think they can get away with any crap shot as a movie just 'cause their previous movies were a hit. I felt the same when I watched Madurai..
posted by Manu4:48 am, August 02, 2005
But a film "made for the masses" caters truly to the masses, not to the critics. There are many people who go there "just to spend 3 hours", others just to see their "God" vikram, and many others, because "others told so"
There are very few movies out there, that were successful inspite of a deep storyline; Roja for example. But there are many others that are not.
PS: Madurai was the crappiest film I ever saw, and wasted 10 dollars on.
posted by satosphere7:24 am, August 02, 2005
Nilu: Certainly... and I feel that you're ably equipped to carry out that research. I can throw in my two paise arguments from time to time!
Suman: Just yesterday I was reading some Tamil literature written two millenia ago.... where did all that erudition go?
Manu: Hmmm.... actually I thought I said something close to the contrary. I for one have great respect for the audience and take it for granted that they cannot be lulled by mediocrity unless there is a compelling compensation from the filmmaker. The bane of our films has been the fact that those 'compensatory' elements are sporadic and in fact go unrecognied even by their very creators. My assertion is that there are certain elements within Tamil cinema that are actually very pioneering, extremely innovative and use the medium really very well. It is no joke that we are the guys who make the most number of films in the world and have been making very good films (that run very well) for these many decades.
Sat: Continuing with my response to Manu, it now makes a lot of sense for the 'critics' to keep their 'intellectual' and 'aesthetic' integrity intact, even while identifying and praising the little gems that are hidden in mostly shit. The film after all, I feel does well because of these gems and not because of the shit. Funnily, when the filmmakers and the audience themselves do not know this, it is after all upto us very 'erudite' folks to point it out.
Doesn't it all come full circle (or spiral onwards) when finally the critic and the (in my mind, mis-identified) 'masses' agree that a film was indeed good.
posted by Anand2:55 pm, August 02, 2005
when i thought shankar will comeback with vengeance after the sloppy 'boys'...he'd dished out one of the worst movies i've ever seen...added to this ,the teasers in the form of vikram's get up, etc...had raised my expctns further......
ya, he's a very good storyteller but the last 2films..boys n anniyan.....r mediocre in content.....
i feel like writing a lot....(my angst)....may be some other time:-)
hey! anand, i've been reading ur blogs on n off but this is the 1st time i'd posted a comment(i was forced to!!!)
i'll write to u more later.....
posted by vijay masha7:14 pm, August 02, 2005
Yabba! My head's still reeling after all that, but man, you can really break things down to nuts...
I think I mentioned this somewhere else,
Shankar tried a Boys, which to me was a simple, straightforward, honest story and nobody liked it. SO he decided you people (as in the audience) deserve only th trash and came up with Anniyan. But I liked the movie.
posted by Ravages8:16 am, August 03, 2005
I am a first timer to ur blog.Ur post made very good reading.
Just wanted to share a couple of observations.In recent times the concept of a "hit" in tamil cinema has changed quite a bit.In the past we had movies celebrating their 175th day.This was considered a hit and a huge success.But today less than 25 days movies are deemed a super duper hit.
I am sure its more to do with the strategy employed today.we have differential pricing in theatres(no more Rs 2.50 tickets sitting in the front row in Nagesh or Krishanveni theatre).We have Rs 250 tickets.Movies are released simultaneiously in innumerable theatres.Take Chandramukhi for example its one of Rajini;s biggest hits.I am sure if u ask any "Thalaivar fan" he will definitely not put on top of his favorites.CM is no Basha or Annamalai but the movie is considered monumental in terms of earnings.Again its just the term "hit" or "success" has a different meaning today.Release the movie in multiple theatres and make money as soon as possible is the mantra.
Also people watch a movie in a Mayajal more for a experience than for the movie itself.Anniyan being however crappy it is, is being embraced by movie goers.I can understand your frustration as a person who understands the nuances of films and film making.But a lay film goer like me will watch the "Shankar-Rehman-Vikram" combination immaterial of what they dish out.
posted by3:30 am, August 04, 2005
I might be coming over to Swindon later this month, are you going to be around? I will also try and see if Chakra and Jag might be interested. Not quite sure if it will be possible for all of us to meet (since they both stay closer to London), but we can try to make an attempt. Do mail me at anandvis[@]gmail[dot]com
posted by Twin-Gemini7:25 am, August 04, 2005
Vijay: What exactly 'forced' you to comment? My contention that Boys was indeed a good film?
CC: Cheers mate! Well, if that kind of scant respect is what Shankar reserves for his audience, then that does not bode well for the future does it?
Anon: The point you make is absolutely valid. In fact, I had clip blogged a piece by Amit Varma. I hope to elaborate on that in a future post myself. I have to understand these things if I nurse any ambitions of becoming a filmmaker myself. Thanks for bringing that up.
Anand: I've e-mailed you mate!
posted by Anand11:08 pm, August 04, 2005
Nice to know some1 else who detested that Loosu Vikrams acting.. Pathetic wud be an understatement :))
And LOL at the lasht 3 lines..
- Another Celibate
posted by ioiio1:31 pm, August 05, 2005
Check out Tell Me Your Dreams by Sidney Sheldon guyz..Anniyan borrows a lot from it, including the end, sadly so predictable to ppl who'v read it :(
posted by5:42 pm, August 05, 2005
Many posibilities left unexplored. Thats something i felt too. I was at sathyam and during the interval, i remember telling my friends that the second half would be a revelation that anniyan actually worked for the government(a terminator. sort of) to make people pay taxes properly :-)
Damn, now that would have been a better story, dont you think?
posted by Tamizhan6:52 pm, August 07, 2005
Aiyoaiyyaio: (BTW, is that the right way to say your name?) Yeah I was very dissapointed with Vikram, and glad you liked the last lines!
Anon: Is that it? Those fucking bastards!... when will they stop bad plagiarisms?
Tamizhan: That would've been really interesting. His alter-ego spawned by a strange government 'X Men' type experiment! Next time I get stuck when writing a script... I'm gonna ask you for ideas!
posted by Anand7:07 pm, August 07, 2005
no, anand, i say i was forced bcoz i wnted to join u people in hitting out against the movie'anniyan'.
i'm a movie buff too. k i'll write to u later abt this.i'd love to knw ur views on the movie'7/G Rainbow Colony'. my mail id is firstname.lastname@example.org
posted by vijay masha4:31 pm, August 10, 2005
First time visitor to your blog, as I caught up with this link from googling on the film "anniyan"... Dont you think you arent fair enough, so what in your opinion is a good tamil movie ?... making "scent of green papaya" in tamil wouldnt make sense !!! I dont mean anniyan is a good movie and wud rather say Shankar not at his best... (rather at his worst, with such a theme) I am really curious to know accoring to a budding movie maker, what is a good movie in all aspects from Tamil movie industry (if it has been made already) ????
posted by armadillo3:03 pm, February 05, 2006
Comparing shankar to hitchcock... ughh revolting. Give me a break. Shankar churns out mindless crap all the time. I am sure he knows this. This making movies for massess thingy is just a lousy excuse. Give him a million bucks and I will bet he will come up with the same shit. Bottom line is absolute lack of talent. Genius!? lol that was good one. Some of hitch's movies aren't that great either. In fact they are pretty ordinary. But shankar's moronic masterpieces are incompareable.
posted by11:16 am, March 21, 2006
Nice blog and you hit the nail right on the coffin with all the points you made.
Mind you I haven't seen the movie Anniyan, but could make out what a crap it would be, just by the history of the director.
It indeed is a super mystery in Indian movie field as to what makes it tick. Take for eg: Kannaththil Mutthamittal and Iruvar(which IMO are the best movies of Mani todate). Though both the movies were fantastic, I do not think there were commercially successful, which made him to give craps like Thiruda T & Dalapathi, just to keep his head above the water.
Or take for example the latest Kannada big hit 'Mungaru male' which is super shit movie, but grossed like 60+ crores todate (1.5 crores spent on the movie)
I am an aspiring filmmaker too and have been trying to get into the physche of Indian Audience, but have failed so far. One thing I have noted though is that a well made movie in the national level is better accepted than the regional one's.
Anyway, nice blog. I got to this while I was searching for 'Yendamoori Virendranath'.
LMK, if you still blog on newer movies. Would like to read more posts on other movies,
And you never know, I may be under your gun too, if I ever make it into movies..
posted by Mahesh10:46 am, September 23, 2007
References to Anniyan, Hitchcock, cinema, politics and yet another sexual metaphor
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