Super Deluxe – Beyond Analysis

In some ways, I see some similarities between Jordan Peele and Thiagarajan Kumararaja. Both made terrific debuts and when they came back to the silver screen, there was one question. Will this be as good as what they did earlier?

Kumararaja does Peele couldn’t wherein, he has actually made a film that is better than his first one. The cult favorite Aaranya Kaandam remains a classic of the Tamil New Wave. But with Super Deluxe, Kumararaja expands his cinematic universe and we are the lucky ones who get to witness it.

By now you are sure to have come across many write ups about what makes this film wonderful and significant. So, the challenge for me is to find a new way to look at it and to be honest, I’m not sure if I can do that. What I would like to do is comment on a few aspects that make Kumararaja’s films special.

In an interview, the director spoke about his influences and one stood out for me. He spoke about the way people speak and more specifically, the rhythm of dialogue. This is very evident in his two films. They are filled with instantly quotable lines from a variety of characters. Watch out for scenes that have two or more people, the way the dialogues flows through these people is astonishing.

On one level, they feel heightened and cinematic but because they are rooted in realism, the effect is unique. It would be superfluous to call it Tarantinoesque but that is one similarity that we can draw. Another thread that connects Aaranya Kaandam and Super Deluxe is that both make use of multiple story lines that converge at one point or another.

Is it a case of the director liking the randomness of life or is just the way we writes? For now, this will remain a mystery but with more films, we may get a definitive answer.

Also, I cannot think of a director who uses Ilayaraja songs better than Kumararaja. Whether it is being used ironically or as a direct comment on a scene, the choices are fantastic. Super Deluxe has one of the best father son relationships shown on screen. The child actor Ashwanth is simply incredible and this once again can be seen as a continuation of what we saw in Aaranya Kaandam.

Talking about this film without mentioning the performances would be like a Kumararaja film without an Ilayaraja song. In a film filled with unbelievable performances, it is Vijay Sethupathi and Samantha who stand out. Both take bold choices and it pays off spectacularly. Keep an eye on them when they cry. As anyone who has tried acting will tell you, crying in a convincing manner is difficult and both make it seem so natural. A special mention has to be made for Gayathrie who wrings so much emotion with just silence.

The thesis for Aaranya Kaandam can be found in the opening credits whereas Super Deluxe puts this forward at the very end. If you ask the director if this was intentional, he will say it just happened. And perhaps therein lies the secret to Kumararaja as a writer and director. Sometimes a flourish doesn’t have any deep meaning and is simply a flourish. With a flourish like Super Deluxe Thiagarajan Kumararaja earns a new legion of fans and they are sure to have only one request. Please do not wait so long to make another film. I am not sure if I managed to achieve what I wanted to with this piece. But Kumararaja achieves an artistic high point that is revolutionary, incendiary and extraordinary.

Until next time, bye.

 

 

Seethakaathi And The Artist Who Won’t Make An Exit

A few days ago, I heard Sanjay Leela Bhansali talk in an interview about how he feels the energies or aura of great minds like V. Shantharam or Raj Kapoor at his work space. This helped him create better; as that statement was taking a major slot on my thoughts, I watched Seethakaathi. A considerably long film which will take longer to get out of your mind. I watched the film 5 days ago and it took me this long to sum up my thoughts and write about it.
Even though ‘Seethakaathi’ has a lot to talk about like the ever sensational topic – “is cinema an art form or not?”. Or it’s brilliant sarcastic take on the business aspects of the most effective medium of storytelling. It is something else that needs to be addressed in the first place, basically the spine of the film, THE UNQUENCHING DESIRE OF AN ARTIST TO PERFORM!
To give this point a more technical approach, let me tell you about the concept of ‘Dramatic Questions’ in a film. Every film can be dissected into 3 acts (Google it for more details). And in a well written screenplay, a dramatic question will be posed at the end of the first act. For example, in ‘Sholay’, Jai and Veeru arrive at Ramnagar by the end of the first act. Now ‘will they capture Gabbar’ becomes the dramatic question. Mostly the journey to the answer becomes the second act and delivering it becomes the third.
But there are a few films that will also pose a philosophical question along with the dramatic one. Example: in The Godfather “is ‘power’ powerful enough to win over a man’s morality” becomes the philosophical question. Mostly this question and it’s answer shows you the writer’s outlook on the world. Coming back to ‘Seethakaathi’, the dramatic question is a bit vague as it’s just ‘what now?’ but the philosophical question is deeper and beautiful “does an artist and his art really die?” and the answer is quite reassuring, no.
It is the yearning of Ayya Aadhimoolam that haunts you even after the film ends. We are introduced to him on the stage, we see him lastly (physically) on the stage. And when he takes off his make-up, we see that he hasn’t earned anything for himself but lived a life feeding off his momentary lives on stage. An astonishing Vijay Sethupathi portrays an endearing old man who even if given a chance won’t complain about anything. In just 25 minutes we are told evething we need to know about Ayya. May be he accepted the first film offer to pay for his grandson’s operation but he continued it definitely because of his hunger for acting.
What an artist needs is not materialistic wealth; it’s not a life size statue that will bring contentment to his soul but applause, love, appreciation and validation for his art. The ending of Seethakaathi is a solid statement that it is not about a body, age or gender. It is about the desire to perform. It is about the satisfaction after that makes art an experience to live for, to die for and to come back from the dead for.
Until next time, bye

Drenched In Love

Given the sheer number of love stories that we have had in cinema, it makes us wonder how a film is going to present it differently. That presentation is what makes 96 special. It shows us a love story that has moments which are universally relatable. And, this is one film that is beautiful in many ways. That includes the performances, direction, writing, cinematography and of course, the music. It makes me wonder how this film would have played out if it had a mediocre soundtrack since the work by Govind Vasantha is sheer brilliance. What makes this film stand out against others from the same ilk, is the way a lot of emotions are underplayed. This gives it a more realistic feel. Prem Kumar’s skill lies in the way he never lets anything delve into melodramatic territory. The impact of the scenes is felt on the audience and is not forced by the characters.

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Is the film without flaws? No, it does have some issues with pacing especially in the second half. Apart from that, there is nothing wrong with the film as such. The motivations and decisions of the characters may be something that you do not agree with, but that is another debate altogether. The best thing about 96 is that it made me feel a wide range of emotions. Some of them felt good while others were not as good, a little bit like love I guess. Tamil cinema over the past few years, has been giving many examples that it can tell stories of different genres in a different way and 96 is yet another step in that direction. At the end of the film, I felt happy. This is the feeling you have when you have seen good cinema. When the sun peeks out after it has rained and the world is drenched in this golden awesomeness, that is how I felt when the screen cut to black. I hope that makes sense.

Until next time, bye.

Back To The Future

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS NO SPOILERS

There is a particular feeling that I get whenever I watch a Mani Ratnam film. I guess it could be described as contentment. But it does not stop there as it goes on to spark this discussion within myself and with others. I want to talk about the various aspects of the film and that for me is the hallmark of a film by the master. As for Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, there is a lot to talk about. It ranges from the technical details to the scenes that made it and some that should have made it. But one thing was clear to me seeing the film, this is Mani Ratnam reinventing himself. Even a filmmaker as famed as himself is not above criticism and there were a few aspects that I did not like about his previous film. To see him go in a more commercial vein, feels exhilarating. This is his way of showing that he can make a film that is more crowd pleasing and yet have his own flourishes in them.

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As for the film, this is one of the more intriguing films that Mani Sir has made since the turn of the millennium. I read a review that said the film would have worked better if it had been made in two parts and I’m inclined to agree with that line of thought. These characters are fascinating from the outset, so it would have been nice to explore them a little more. It is to the credit of the screenplay that we are left wanting more. The film manages to feel like both a throwback to the Nayagan and Thalapthi days but it feels fresh. If this is the direction that Mani Ratnam is going to go in, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

PS: It is genuinely heartening to see this crimson sky turn into box-office gold.

Until next time, bye.