Dec 30, 2008

December Movies

Managed to watch a lot of movies in the holiday season..  This is the collection of the short reviews.
* Ghajini
      A few things were better whereas a few others were worse than the tamil version. First, the worse ones: I felt that Surya had done a better job than Aamir in the first half. Harris' music was also far superior to AR Rahman's. Among the +ve differences, the climax, which was the sore point in the tamil version, has been cleverly modified. The utterly-irritating XY-machi Nayanthara is replaced by Jiah Khan. Aamir Khan's body is more toned than Ghajini Surya's. There are thankfully only two full-length songs, so the pace of the movie isn't impeded by unnecessary songs. Overall, this is surely watchable whether or not one has watched the tamil original.
* The curious case of Benjamin Button
     Based on an interesting imagination, the story unfolds as the protagonist is born old and gets gradually younger as he ages. So, we get some unique situations in which a person is mentally young but physically old and the situation gets reversed at his old age. The story largely revolves around Benjamin's (Brad Pitt) love on Cate Blanchett. The climax is an unforgettable experience. The highlight of the movie to me was the make-up of the main characters. It was so real. The 2-minute segment where we hear from Benjamin's voice, a superb portrayal of the butterfly effect. The movie is quite long and draggy at times; but the fine performance of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett makes us glued to the proceedings. Definitely recommended.
     After watching Bharathiraja's previous product in the form of the disasterous 'KaNgaLAl kaidhu sei', I had absolutely no expectations on this at all. But, it was pleasantly surprising to see him come up with a terrific thriller. As is the case with the best thriller movies, the climax has some unexpected twists which the director gradually builds en route. Nana Patekar's performance is good but we tend to see 'Nizhalgal' Ravi in him due to the strong influence of the dubbing artist. Arjun too delivers a subdued and apt performance. So one can say that Bharathiraja has redeemed himself with Bommalattam. Two thumbs up.
      During a time when the rights of homosexuals are constantly challenged, this movie throws light on the story of the first openly-gay elected official in the U.S. It is quite apt that it is based in the culturally diverse San Francisco. As the movie unfolds, one gets to see not only the political struggle of the protagonist, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn in an Oscar-worthy performance) but the emotions involed in his personal life as well. Though we know the end from a scene few minutes into the movie, the proceedings make it interesting. One lateral thought: I felt that the title is somewhat suitable to the sexual orientation. Milk is an emulsion of water and lipids, each of which is clear and transparent but when mixed, they lead to a smudgy liquid.
* Abhiyum naanum      
       An ultra-simple movie which is almost like a documentary of Prakash Raj's life. Radha Mohan's liking for super feel-good movies continues with this movie as well. I felt it to be a OK movie with a linear story and minimal twists. So we get ideal father, ideal mom, ideal daughter, ideal-appearing sikh family, etc. Prakash Raj's acting in the second half was irritatingly over-the-top. After listening to 'Siru siru' song, I had a particular opinion about the story, though the possibility of the song being shot in a similar way as one of the 'Kanda naal mudhal' songs didn't fail to pass my mind. Thus, the second half almost looks like parts of 'Hum aapke hain kaun'. So, my verdict is, this movie is only for the sentimentally inclined ones.

* Valkyrie
     I went to see this movie expecting it to be a war-story. On the contrary, it is a story of a real event that happened a year before the end of world war 2. The story is on an attempt by some good-willed anti-Nazi German soldiers on the life on Adolf Hitler. Some good performances but nothing great to rave about. 
     I didnt like anything in this movie except for the songs, in which Simbhu tries some extravagant dance steps. The double entendre and perverted scenes are too much. Crass. All the so-called comedy segments being targetted towards the Brahmins are disgusting. I dont know if the film industry can afford to show any other community in such a demeaning manner and get away with it. A silly story, a meaningless first half, and juvenile violence are all indigestible. Give it a miss, unless you are a mass-masala lover.

Dec 23, 2008

Indian Arranged Marriages

Some of the Indian movies that I watched recently , viz., Rab ne bana di jodi, Poo and Mounam pesiyathey, had one thought-provoking thing in common - they had at least one scene where the parent(s) decide about the wedding of a main character. Indian parents, traditionally, have been considering the marriage of their son/daughter as their main responsibility. So, it is not surprising that the mere mention of 'love' meets with resistance - sometimes strong and sometimes weak, depending on how 'different' the lover is, in terms of religion, caste, social status, family background, and appearance. This post is not to support or oppose arranged  marriage, but my analysis from a sociological point of view.

Why is arranged marriage the #1 preferred option by the parents? They strongly believe that, due to age and hence experience, they are in a better position to find a suitable match for their son/daughter. The 'horoscope matching' is an important part, since the religious belief that marriages are made in heaven and hence several mismatches between the boy and girl in horoscopes usually means a disagreement from the Gods on their marriage the moment they were born. Marriages are considered to be the union of not just two people, but two small sub-divisions of their caste. Thus, it is a chance for 10-15 families from each side to create a bond between themselves. So, the first thing the parents look for is 'a good family'.
A good family usually means reasonably well-off financially, with preferably educated parents and without any huge 'blemishes' by the members. From this moment on, I am going to start giving examples of the cases that I know of. While trying to get their mid-30's daughter married, the parents found a 'good boy' but the problem was that his father had two wives. Though the boy and girl liked each other from their first meeting and were well-matched in terms of their educational qualifications, the girl's parents were worried as to 'what if the son also gets inspired by his dad  and chooses to follow him'. Later, after trying several other alliances in vain, they agreed to accept the boy, but keeping their fingers crossed and half-heartedly. There is a sociological theory called 'Broken windows theory' which says that if one social norm is violated in a place, it is more likely that the same norm and/or other norms would be violated in the same place. The girl's parents must be thinking along the same lines. The boy's grandfather was monogamous, but his dad choose bigamy. So, who was the inspiration for his father? Were they worried that, if the boy tries to pair with another girl after the marriage, his parents would have no moral responsibility to advise him against it? 
There is a belief among the Iyers that a girl wedded to a Malayali iyer family would be taken care very well by her in-laws, because they would treat her as good as their own daughter. On the contrary, a non-malayali iyer family would hesitate to accept a girl from a malayali iyer family due to the belief that the girl would have been nicely pampered at their parents home and so would not be obedient to her in-laws. I know of someone who was married to such a malayali family because the boy's parents treated them well during the first visit and the boy is earning well. She had no choice but to agree for the marriage, and, during their communication before marriage, she didnt like several of his qualties, which were of importance to her. So, she entered into wedlock in dissatisfaction and with no choice left. Soon, she gave birth to a son, and hence, according to her family and the society, she is 'happily married with a son'. On the contrary, though the in-laws treat her well, her husband is indifferent to her feelings in almost every sense, and hence she is largely very unhappy with him ever since they got married. Who would believe if she tells that she is unhappy in her marriage?
As I mentioned before, while all lovers meet with resistance from their parents, the resistance is unimaginable when it is out of religion. A girl loved a muslim and the parents and relatives were totally against it. She was hastily married to someone from their own caste, but she was quite adament with her love, so they got divorced within a year of the marriage. She then married her lover, and they lived happily. Her family accepted her only conditionally; she wasnt allowed to attend any of their family functions which included the weddings of her 3 brothers. In another case, a tamil iyer guy who came to study in the US met an American girl, who had converted herself to Buddhism a few years ago. They fell in love, and when he told about it to his parents, they were ultra-dramatic and vicious, until the wedding. Though his mom has sort of accepted her fully, his dad insult her even now. She being a buddhist helped in some extent to get his parents' approval. She is living happily too. 
Now, his parents were looking for a boy for his sister. They found a 'good family', 'nice boy', well-educated and good job. As it happens sometimes, he was found out to be even some distant relative, and so got the daughter married to the guy. But, they turned out to be total freaks, and she left him within 3 months. His parents turned nasty and evil against her parents because they were all fake. The buddhist lady blames her sis-in-law for her stupidity in going for such a marriage, because she feels that Indians get education only on what they study, but not on their lives. Also, she calls the Indian parents with such a mindset as hypocrites, since they have the tendency to emotionally blackmail their children whom they claim to love so much. According to her, the Indian parents give unthinkable backlash when the kids dont want their help. Since parents' love should never be in question, their huge interference in the choice of spouse for their children is totally against Hindu teachings.
When we Indians discuss about our marriage process to most westerners, they get shocked at the concept of 'arranged marriages' and ask questions like "how would u know if he wont beat u, how can you love someone whom you hardly know, what if you two are too different in personality that you clash for everything". I strongly feel that there is a huge amount of luck in the arranged marriages, which means we leave the match-making to God. In order to make the arranged marriages to work better, I have a small suggestion, after taking a cue from the movie 'Raman thediya Seethai'.
In the movie, Cheran goes to see a girl and when her parents make them talk to each other in private, he tells her that he doesnt want either of them to decide now. He suggests that they should talk to each other for awhile before conveying their decision to the parents. That is one idea which immediately appealed to me. In the various steps of approval from the boy and girl, usually the two most important steps are seeing each other's foto and talking for a few minutes when he comes to her house with his family comes to see her. How can that be enough to  arrive at the right decision? An open-minded time period of atleast a few weeks is required for the boy and girl to understand about the other person to some extent. True, the chance of faking some qualities and hiding some is there, but hey, one has to take this chance for life.
One last example: A guy who is getting arranged-marriage with a girl is finding some differences with her already. She is very good, very sweet and loving towards him but he feels that her love is suffocating him. He says that he says 'I love u' to her just for the sake of it, without any true feelings. She sings for him songs in the phone but he feels that she is not a good singer and she makes mistakes in her 'sruthi' (He has learnt music). He is already showing a forced-love through fone, though she is not demanding. I feel sorry for that girl, and wish that this fella changes for good after the wedding. Imagine how it will be for her to hear from him in one angry moment that all the 'I love u's that he uttered were all fake!
This post is already quite long and I have more to write.. may be in the replies to appropriate comments. The communication between the pair in the arranged marriage system has changed in the last few years thanks to technological advances. So, unlike earlier times when the couple learn about each other's likings, wishes, and other details after the marriage, they do so now by talking in cellfone/fone, skype/yahoo and also getting to meet in person a few times. Ideally, the parents should ask their children if it is OK to choose a spouse for him/her. And, when they stumple upon someone whom they think is a good match, they should give time and space to the kids to make the ultimate decision. In short, the marriages should change from being 'family-centric' to 'couple-centric'. 

Dec 18, 2008

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Lemme try to review it the way Suhasini would do.. ;)

The director of this film, Aditya Chopra, rewrote the trend in Hindi films in 1995 with his blockbuster 'DDLJ' which is still running in Mumbai. He brought life back to a precariously placed Yash Raj films which is continuing to make 3-4 films a year. DDLJ was the first among a series of films with an NRI as the protagonist. Aditya followed DDLJ with 'Mohabbatein' 5 years later. Romance was the backbone for that movie too, but it wasnt even half as good as DDLJ. While the movie had good songs and an impressive star-cast, its story was very weak, and its scope pathetic. He took a long hiatus from directing movies and now is back with his favorite hero and a newcomer Anushka Sharma as the heroine.

The story first. Surinder (a geeky SRK with shirt, pant and specs), who works for 'Punjab Power' in Amritsar gets to marry Taani (Anushka) whose fiance dies on their wedding day due to an accident. Taani is very unhappy with the marriage and hence they both live separately in the same house. Taani joins a dance class and prepares for a competition. The introverted Suri wants to somehow win her love and undergoes a total change in his make-over, personality and everything, which make him totally opposite to what defines Suri. When Taani meets him in the dance class, she is unable to identify him as her husband. Afraid that he might not get a chance to spend time with her, he introduces himself as Raj to her and reverts back to his normal appearance at home.

Taani and Raj are assigned as dance partners. She slowly starts to like the vivacious Raj. He starts flirting with her, which meets with her resistance at first. Gradually, as they have to spend time together practicing their dance, she begins to like him. Her behavior is bittersweet to Raj, since he knows that she likes not her husband but the bubbly Raj. He goes to the extent of proposing to her and she agrees to elope with him. The movie ends with the events surrounding the final of the dance competition.

Rab ne.. walks on the edge of a sharp knife for the most part, without trying to compromise on the Indian culture and values. Though the climax is somewhat predictable, I wanted to see the way the events lead to it. After already having starred in a controversial movie like KANK, it is a risk for Shahrukh to enact a similar role. Can't say that his role comes out unscathed. His Raj character crosses the limit in 'testing' Taani by alluring and wooing her. Her anger in the climax is ridiculous, to say the least and is stereotypical of an Indian woman.

The movie suffers from huge lack of logic, which is its next major problem. First is the inability of Taani to distinguish between Suri and Raj, especially since they are the only two people with whom she interacts in Amritsar. Suri's total change in character resembles a multiple-personality disorder, only that in his case, both the personalities are very much aware of each other. Suri's reasoning for creating and sustaining Raj character is very weak, especially since he doesn't do anything to express his abundant love to Taani. 'Seeing God' in a loved one is all too much. This kind of story would have been apt for the era of previous generation only.

'Dance pe chance' has some nice lyrics and good dance; 'Phir milenge' is interesting, but the novelty in OSO's 'Om Shanti om' is missing. Shahrukh's body language is funny and entertaining in places. Anushka is just little more than a pretty doll. Her costumes - both the traditional Punjabi and dance suits are the only ones which add color to the movie. Overall, the movie is a yawn-fest most of the time; better luck, Shahrukh for the next 'My name is Khan'.

Dec 11, 2008

SabAsh.. SariyAna POtti!

In the middle of getting continuously frustrated with a-nice-but-being-spoilt-by-partial-judges-show 'Airtel Super Singer 2008', something good happened this week. This is the week of 'Unplugged' songs, and the acoustic musician who came to accompany the contestants was one Mr. Stephen Devassy. Oh boy, wasnt he fabulous.. For tamil cinema viewers who haven't heard of him, just remember the piano bit before the second charanam in 'Kaatrin mozhi' - the one where Prithviraj, Prakashraj and Swarnamalya dance on a zebra crossing as if playing the keyboard.. that bit was played by none other than Stephen.

You can google and get loads of impressive info on this 27-year old; I was totally taken aback by his talent on this week's show. And then I came to know that he has already been an integral part of a similar talent-hunt show in the Malayalam channel 'Amrita', called Superstar Global, searching about which I came across this singer Roopa Revathi, who would put the super singer contestants into shame. Watch especially for this video below wherein she sang 'SingAra vElanE' song, with Stephen playing the piano, in front of S. Janaki, no less.

I became a huge fan of Stephen, the major reason for which is the performance below. No wonder he is the best Asian student ever at the famous London Trinity college of music.

I have noticed in the recent months that the new talent in Kerala is amazing. Considering the legends like Balamurali Krishna, KJY, Janaki,Chitra, Sujatha and Jency, I should have known sooner. I first saw some shows of Idea star singer,the first Malayalam singer-hunt show which is currently running in Asianet. Several of the contestants sing tamil songs, that too very well, with near-perfect diction. Looking at this kind of abundant talent in TN and Kerala, I wonder how there can be a place for someone like Madhusree in Tamil cine music.

Dec 6, 2008


There have been quite a few complalints about the absence of heroine-centric movies in Tamil. In fact, thinking quite deeply about it, even the people like KB who have been known and famous for the female-centric stories have rarely shown a movie with the heroine in the limelight. Nandhini in Manathil Urudhi Vendum is the one that comes to the mind, while analyzing the last 20 or so years of Tamil cinema. In other movies, the role of the female(s) is considerably higher than the average movies but still such movies have been either hero-centric, or, the woman is shown to be at the mercy of the man/dependent. A separate post is required for the detailed analysis, but, in the context of Poo, it is a brilliantly made movie with the heroine as the central character.
Story: To prevent any kind of spoiler, this is what I can say: mMaari (Parvathi), who is happily married, visits her native village for a festival. There, she wants to meet her cousin Thangarasu (Srikanth) whom she knows since their childhood. From a mix of flashback and the real-time events, we get to see their lives through the eyes of Maari.
While doing some googling on this movie, I came to know that Poo is based on a novel. That explains the freshness of the story and the way it plays with the emotions. It is a slow-paced movie but I never had a minute of boredom. With the limited knowledge that we know about the main characters in the first few minutes of the movie, it always keeps us engrossed on what is going to happen next. That means that the screenplay is a successful one. The dialogues too are simple and realistic. Almost every character, including the tea shop owner, who initially appeared to be an unnecessary insert resembling Vadivelu in several scenes, has a role play later.
The movie is a tribute to humanity and the social concepts of friendship, relationship and love. It has to be seen to be experienced. Parvathi as Maari has simply lived that character; she reminded me of Shobha of the previous generation. I hope we can get to see her more in meaningful roles. Srikanth plays his role well. The girl who appears as Maari's friend is a good find too. Other characters help bring the Rajapalayam feel to the movie. 3 songs (Aavarampoo, Maaman, and Dheena) are three lovely melodies; choo choo maari is cute when it comes first and haunting during the second time; and Sivakasi rathiye is an interesting folk number involving two unique people.
In some scenes, I was totally in awe of the writer/director's story-telling power: when a weight falls on Maari's feet, when she tries to remember and recall a phone number, when Maari momentarily meets her lamb, the penultimate scene involving hands, and the 'silence' in the ultimate scene are those which have stayed in the mind. After watching the entire movie, I watched the first 10 minutes of the movie again, which made me view them in a totally new light. Therein lies the beauty of her feelings. At times, we wonder if she is eccentric or obsessed on a character. Her last conversation with her friend in the flashback sequence brilliantly shows her real heart.
I strongly recommend Poo. IMHO, this is better than 'Subramaniapuram' and so is my candidate for the best movie of the year. One random thought before I finish: what is it with the simplest of the titles? 4 years ago, a movie was released with a title that was a part of the title of several dozens of movies before that, and it was a ground-breaking movie, set in the similar background of Madurai. I am talking about 'Kaadhal', which was, coincidentally released in the last weeks of 2004. Now, with 'Poo', the similarities are so striking, and I hope that 'Poo' too becomes a commercial hit.

Dec 3, 2008

Designer Babies

The term 'Designer babies' has been largely used by the popular media (mostly in a derisive way) to define the babies who are genetically tailored in the zygotic phase in order to eliminate the risk of known genetically transmitted diseases and to increase the capacity for certain skills/straits when the child grows up. The U.S. populace is divided over the concept because of the conservative belief of 'playing the God' and socio-ethical issues. My stand on this issue is a policy-based support for the genetically-bettered babies.

      Firstly, it is the responsibility of the parents to do the best for their children. One moral/bioethical question that is being asked about designing babies is that it is like violating the rights of a human being and fiddling with his/her rights without permission. I consider that, from the moment a man and woman decide to have a baby, they are interfering with the right of another human being, which is of course not present. By choosing a partner of their own liking, by eating food of their choice during pregnancy, by consuming medicines that would keep the baby free of certain infectious diseases, by choosing a medical facility based on their liking for the pregnancy treatment and child delivery, and by opting for natural or caesarian method for delivery, the parents decide what is best for their child. The society accepts all of that, even though many of such practices have been constantly evolving over the past several decades.

      I presume there will be some opponents to this concept, as there are for other controversial concepts such as abortion. It is important for one to be able to defend their decision to the opponents who might very well be relatives, coworkers and/or friends. My defense would be along the following lines: The society doesn’t question if a bankrupt or extremely poor couple decides to conceive a child; no squabbles if a jailbird wants to become a parent; also, the society allows the parents of a newborn or a young child to separate upon divorce; it even permits homosexuals to adopt a child. The future of the child or the consent of the child is never considered, because for the society, the parents are those who become more important than the tender mind of the child. 

If one argues that, by genetically doctoring a child, we are tinkering with the child’s freedom of life, I would say that so do all the cases mentioned above. Can we argue that, since a mother and father are required for the conception of a child, the child deserves to have both of them together at home, until he/she reaches a certain age? Can the society ban divorce of parented couple unless the child consents? Can the child sue the divorced or poor or homosexual parents for not providing him/her an ideal and peaceful environment at home? After all, the children didn’t plead the parents to give birth to/adopt them, did they? Under the terms ‘parental responsibility’, ‘parental freedom’ and ‘reproductive/biological urge’, we allow the parents to choose what they want.

       Similarly, in a competitive society, the responsibility to give birth a fittest possible child also comes under the responsibility of the parents. Granted, it is a game that can be played only by rich people; I wouldn’t know how much it would be possible for me to be able to spend for the genetic design of my child, but I would do my best to ensure that there is a somewhat level-playing field for my child. In that regard, I would like my child to be born without any physical and mental disabilities and with good intelligence. As long as the purpose of altering the natural genetics of a child is for the child’s betterment, I would support it and go for it. Other attributes such as gender, height, and other physical attributes are the qualities which are governed by me and my partner so I wouldn’t want that to be altered at all. Beauty and physical attributes are left out of the ‘betterment’ criterion, because I consider that beauty lies in the eyes of a beholder, and, what appears to be a positive attribute for one person need not be so for another. So, I would let nature take its own course in deciding those features for my child.

      Another concern raised by the opponents of this concept is, they feel that it would take away the excitement of watching children grow to their individual personality, and that it would negate the disease-fighting and adapting tendency of a person if he/she is largely disease-free. I correlate such resistances to the voices raised by the so-called ‘purist lovers’ of sports when technology was brought in to sort-out some on-field decisions, the verdict of which depended only on the referee/umpire’s decision. A famous English cricketer, WG Grace once mentioned to an umpire who had just given a bad decision, “People have come to see me bat, not to see you umpire”. Common sense prevailed, several sports have assimilated technology, and the quality of the sports has become better since then. Similarly, every caring parent will want the best possible life for their children; seeing the children struggle against a disease which could have been prevented, or not being able to excel in life because of limited intelligence would be akin to child abuse.

      Such advancements would mean that the level and intensity of competition among the members of the future generation will be quite difficult from what we see in our times. Youngsters and adults, devoid of worries about major acquired diseases and armed with better intelligence will constantly be thriving to excel one another. That doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing. One such scientist endowed with super-intelligence might invent a drug for HIV; another physician might invent quick and complete cure for brain tumor; a nanotechnologist might design cheap and highly efficient solar cells or motor vehicles which would save our planet from burning of fossil fuels. 

Also, intellectuals along the same league as Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud, Richard Feynman, Leonardo Da Vinci, Beethoven, and   Isaac Newton may be born. The possibilities are endless. Is it something to be worried? Such people have made the world a better place to live, so why can’t we have more of them in the future? It doesn’t mean that we can expect all these and more such breakthroughs happen by default or in a jiffy. The emphasis would still be on good education, parental care, responsible upbringing, inculcation of moral values and respect for fellow humans.

      There might be some developments such as extra-fast athleticism, super-durable sportsmen, and extra-strong anti-social elements. In addition, there is a possibility that, those who cannot afford to have the genetically modified babies will continue to produce the ‘normal’ ones, leading to a divided society based on some new factor. But these are some of the issues that the politicians and sociologists need to consider and work about. American history suggests that, when the cars were introduced for the first time, only the rich could afford it initially; but the society as a whole started working very hard with a goal-driven desire to own a car. This led to the industrial revolution and the U.S. has never looked back since then. Such a phenomenon is highly likely to recur, since the stakes are quite high this time around. And America being a free society is always more welcoming to new developments in science and technology than dwell over the negative repercussions. 

      I think it is human nature to be circumspect when an extraordinary breakthrough is just around the corner. It is more so the case with conservatives and those who place religion above everything else. The numerous medical advancements that the genetic engineering promises must allow its opponents to let the scientists do their job under the watchful eyes of the Government and eminent scholars.