Saturday, June 19, 2010

Raavanan: Not the best of the best, but definitely a treat!

When Vikram's back was shown on screen, the hooligans in the cinema just went crazy. I don't usually watch Tamil and Hindi films in the cinema, but this was embarrassing. After all, this is a proper cineplex at a proper shopping mall, not some ancient cinema down town tucked at one corner! Those hooligans definitely need to learn a lesson or two on how to behave in public. Whistling and making monkey sounds when your favourite actor appears on screen is labeled 'normal' by my aunt who often goes to the cinema to watch Tamil movies. Gosh! What if our Malay and Chinese friends see this? What would they think? It is embarrassing enough that these same species of hooligans make a havoc each time there is a festival at their local Hindu temples and become a disgrace to the Indian community, now we have these dumbos acting like maniacs in cinemas! Sh*t!

Wait a minute! This was supposed to be a movie review! What the hell am I doing acting like a moral police over here? Hahahahaha... sorry. Got a little too emotional a minute ago. Well, someone has got to stand up and question something wrong in our society - just like in Tamil movies. Huhuhuhu....

Fine, so to be honest the movie does not meet the expectations of a Mani Ratnam film. But it was not a disappointment though. Usually Mani Ratnam's film are both entertaining with an important social message. In Raavanan, there is an important social message but not much entertainment qualities. It was not as if we were expecting a Vijay-styled masala flick. Not from Mani Ratnam at least. But when compared to Mani's previous film; Guru, Raavanan is less of a good movie. Let's evaluate the many departments of the film shall we?


Alright. So we all know the story is a modern taking of the Hindu epic Ramayana. There is also a major twist in the film - Raman is the villain and Raavanan is the hero. Of course, some schools of Hinduism view Raavanan as more than a villain, but no Hindu would ever label Raman as a villain! He is an avatar of a deity! So, in order to avoid from taking any offence from the movie's plot, it is best to not view the film as anything to do with the Hindu epic. Mani Ratnam and his wife, Suhashini; who wrote the dialogues are both atheists. So, both of them would not have any inner conflict in making a movie such as this.

Did you know the movie was initially named Ashokavanam? Well if you are not well-versed with the Hindu holy scriptures, then let me tell you that Ashokavanam is the place in Lanka where Sita was kept by Raavanan when she was kidnapped by him and brought here. Sita mostly spent her time under an Ashoka tree, thus the name Ashokavam. Since most of the story takes place in the jungle where the heroine(Sita) is kept, it would have been more creative and artistic to name the film Ashokavanam. But perhaps Mani Ratnam wanted to parallel the film to its Hindi version which is titled Raavan. Thus, the film is named Raavanan.

Like every other Mani Ratnam movie, Raavanan has a powerful story. Since it is based on the Ramayana epic, the main characters are based on these Hindu icons:

Raavanan : Veeraya (Vikram Kennedy)
Sita : Ragini (Aishwarya Rai)
Prince Rama : Dev Prakash (Prithiviraj Sukumaran)
Hanuman : Gnanaprakasam (Karthik Muthuraman)
Kumhbakarna : Singarasan (Prabhu Ganesan)
Suparnakha : Vennila (Priyamani)
Vibishana : Sakkarai (Munna)
Lakshmannan : Hemanth Kumar (John Vijay)
Lady Rakshas: Raasathi (Vaiyapuri)

There are no boring scenes. Every scene contributes to the power of the story. Most scenes are extremely melodramatic. Like when Ragini realizes she has bee kidnapped by the three outcast brothers - Veeraya, Singarasan and Sakkarai. Ragini starts to recite some poem on bravery or something - I think it must be from the Ramayana epic itself. I'm not so sure. But it seemed a little too overdone. Tamil-movie-goers who only like masala films and are not fully well-versed with the vocabulary of art films might find all this boring.

Unlike most Tamil films today which uses English dialogues, Raavanan hardly has any of this. In fact, most of the dialogue is in pure Tamil with the Thirunalveli accent. Most of the lines are very dramatic, not to mention poetic.


Now let's not compare this movie's music direction to other AR Rahman musicals. It seems like Rahman has focused more on the background music than on the songs. Rahman uses native African, Red Indian and Bali music to set the atmosphere of the film - which is set mostly in the highland jungles of south India.

Veera, Usire Poghudey and Kalvare are typical AR Rahman masterpieces. Veera is an energetic number and Usire Poghudey has catchy Afican tribalistic tunes in it. But my personal favourite is Kalvare, which is a slow melodramatic number. The choreography of this song performed by Aishwarya Rai and choreographed by the famous dancer turned actress Shobana. Her Bharanatyam routine was flawless, not to mention stunning - according to my sister who studies the dance.


People who don't know who the director is would have definitely expected a complete entertainment based film. After all, the cast includes among two of the hottest actors in the Tamil film industry - Vikram Kennedy and Prithiviraj Sukumaran. Not to mention two of yesteryears' most successful actors - Prabhu Ganesan and Karthik Muthuraman. Even National Award Winner Priyamani is in this movie. And of course there is the real star of the film - Aishwarya Rai. After becoming the Queen of Bollywood and making it big internationally after staring in The Pink Panther 2 alongside Steven Martin, and not to mention becoming the ambassador for various products such as Lo'real Paris, Lux and so muc more, the fact that she is staring in a humble Tamil film will definitely boost the image of the Tamil film industry, which is revered by Tamilians all around the globe.

Vikram is okay as Veerayah, the tribal leader fighting for his people's rights. He plays the heroic and agresive aplha male once again like in most of his films. He is both scary and funny each time he appears on scree. But bear in mind this movie was filmed back to back scene by scene with the Hindi version, in which Vikram plays Dev Prakash instead. This means he has to play two roles at once - one the hero and another the villain in two different languages mind you! You've got to give the man some respect for that.

This is Aishwarya Rai's first Tamil film in ten years. Her last Tamil film was Kandukondain Kandukondain in 2000 which was a massive hit. Note that all her Tamil films are AR Rahman musicals. She is beautiful as Ragini, Dev Prakash's wife even though it is widely known that she did not use even a touch of make-up during the jungle scenes. She gives justice to the role as the brave and sensitive Ragini. Her blue eyes speaks emotion for her. In an interview she knew Tamil as in konjum konjum teriyum. In this movie, she took some private tutoring to brush up her Tamil. She managed to speak the language like a native speaker. Amazing indeed. Just like her two heroes, she too performed her stunts by herself. One scene where she climbs a waterfall with Vikram is shot so beautifully it will take your breath away.

Prithiviraj does a good job but does not shine as bright as his two other co-stars. He may be acting as the husband of Aish's character, but in real life he is ten years her junior! But he looks matured enough to act as her husband. It is only revealed that his character has a darker side towards the end of the film. In one particular scene where he walks into the jungle and pretends to make peace with one of his enemies, his facial expression might give audiences the creeps as we all know he plans to kill the enemy in cold blood. The sinister smile on his seemingly sincere face to make peace totally freaked me out!

The cast of supporting characters boosts a line of popular actors like Karthik, Prabhu and Priyamani. Karthik and Prabhu brought some comic relief to the extremely dark film. Karthik was jumping like a monkey form one tree to another in reference to Hanuman. Prabhu also delivers some funny lines like when he scolds Aish for her rudeness and disobedience towards him and his brothers. Despite having limited screen time, Priyamani did a wonderful job in her role. In fact, just like in the original Ramayana, it is this character which is the main reason of the conflict between the good and the bad of the story. I will not tell much here, but it may seem a little too predictable to some.


Santosh Sivan is most probably the real star of this movie. If our Tamil stars had not come on screen, you might even think it is a Hollywood film! The camera has successfully captured the beauty of the jungle and also the chillness of the highlands. The film was shot at some of the most beautiful parts of India like Ooty and Kerala. Even the stunning action sequences are shot to perfection. A fight-scene between out two leads on a hanging bridge a few thousand miles above sea level can be considered the highlight for the cinematography of the film.


It has been a few days since the film has been released and it has received mostly mixed reviews. It might be an average grosser. All I would like to say is this movie is not for the average Tamil movie fan. It has no masala film elements in it. It is more of an art film staring A-listers. I would stronly recommend this movie to those who are:

- fans of Mani Ratnan films
- fans of Vikram, Aishwarya Rai and Prithiviraj
- fans of AR Rahman's background music
- fans of art films
- those who expect something new and fresh from the Tamil film industry

Go enjoy the film... Lots of love from mua!!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Alright. So I have three months for myself to spend time with my family before I leave for the UK to study. I never expected my aunts to throw me a special birthday party to celebrate my turning to 20!

Aaaaarrrrrggggggghhhhh!!!!!!!!! I'm twenty now! TWENTY!!!!!! Means no more 'teen' at the back of my age, which also meant I'm no longer a teenager. I'm officially a young adult. One part of being mature is to know your own downturns. And I know for a fact my major downturn is I'm not mature enough to be a young adult. I'm an emotionally unstable human being with a tendency to be highly dramatic to the extend I at times loose control over myself.... Young adult?? Wekkk!!!

So the very next day, my father, uncle and aunts took my siblings, cousins and I to Penang.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What can I say? Gautham Menon and AR Rahman join hands to make a romantic musical? What else??? It spell MAGICAL... and that is what the movie Vinaythandi Varuvaaya has to present to audience. Not exactly a fresh new story, but personally I find it a breath of fresh air after a string of masala films from the Tamil film industry.


Gautham Menon directed and wrote the script of the movie. There is ABSOLUTELY no denial that Gautham tries very hard in giving all of his movies a Hollywood touch - no matter how much he may try to deny it. But that is what makes his movies special. Zero masala spices in his movies. This factor simply gives his movies a breath of fresh air... a certain uniqueness I must say. Let's analyze these few lines from the film shall we?

Karthik (Simbu): I see her back more often that her front, not that I'm complaining.

Karthik (Simbu): It was a one way ticket to heartbreak city.

...and also not to mention the limited but the super obvious use of the 'f' word.

You never hear these kind of lines in your usual Vijay-styled Tamil films. Mostly, there are English lines in the rap music to the dappa kuttu songs. Urban Tamil movie-goers might either appreciate the use of these lines, or simply find them irritating.

But how can one say argue that the narration is such a beauty. The story is typical old-school. Guy loves girl, girl loves guy. Both from different caste/social status/religion. Parents don't approve of the union, particularly girls's dad. Girl's rowdy big brother tries to beat hero up, but hero manages to beat big brother and big brother's gang up instead. Yawn....zzzzzz.......

Even the tagline says: Another love story, yet again!!! Gautham Menon has some guts eh???

But the narration is absolutely beautiful. In an interview, Menon stated the movie is not just about a simply, lighthearted love story. It is about an intense love story. Well, the man is right. It is most definitely an intense love story. There is lots of melodramatic dialogue - but not your average Tamil movie type. Truly natural, something you could hear in everyday life type of dialogue. If you have the right heart, it's sure to get touched...


What can I say? IT'S AR RAHMAN FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!!!!!! The man is a genius! Both songs and background music can simply touch your heart and it sticks to you head. The background score at the beginning really gives you an instant feeling of how the movie is going to be. There is even a short Mozart-styles background music when Karthik (Simbu) sees Jessie (Trisha) for the first time. It REALLY sounds like some Renaissance era symphony. The man definitely deserves the title The Mozart of Madras.

As a fanatic AR Rahman fan, I really missed his romantic musicals such as Jeans, Bombay, Iruvar, Kandukondain Kandukondain, Kadhalar Dhinam, Kadhal Desam, Uyire, Mudhalvan, Mr. Romeo and many more. Remember how the songs and background score of these films would stick to your mind day and night, and you would hum it even when you're in the shower, and you wake up after a short afternoon nap and they play in your head as you watch the sunset? Now, Vinaythandi Varuvaaya shall become the latest member of this genre of films.

Since the movie is about a Nasrani (Malayalee Christian) girl, some Christian terminology can be found in some of the songs like Hosanna. Gautham Menon, being part Malayalee has made a wonderful effort in trying to promote his Malayalee culture. Aaromale is completely in Malayalam. Even some Malayalee worlds like Omane Penne (Beautiful Maiden) can be found. The mother of director Rajiv Menon, who was once Gautham Menon's boss lends her voice in one of the songs.


Honestly, I swore never to watch , talk about or encourage anyone to watch this film when I first found out that Simbu was the hero. I loathed him because of his bad boy. Furthermore, all his previous movies had been pure masala entertainers. So not my type. But then the name Gautham Menon popped up and I though, "Oh...ok? This should be interesting..."

Gautham has somehow redesigned Simbu's image. There are no corny punch lines in this movie. No steamy sex scenes. No ridiculous dance numbers. No dumb fight scenes. There is, however, a little bit of everything - which is executed very subtlety in a typical Hollywood-ish Gautham Menon style. I can't believe I'm actually saying this, being probably the last person on earth to ever call himself a fan of Simbu- but Simbu did a great job in this movie. You should really watch the scene in Central Park, New York. With the magical background music and the beautiful lines, not forgetting Simbu's lovely facial expression - you might let out a tear or two...

Trisha is absolutely beautiful, gorgeous, stunning.... whatever you want to call her. But not in a vulgar way. Unlike her previous movies, she wears almost no revealing attire in this film. In fact, she dons Sarees and Punjabi suits most of the time - exactly like a Nasrani girl. Her acting is okay. What's best is here she is given a meaty role - unlike most of her other movies where she is expected to be just eye candy and the male lead or hero grabs the spotlight entirely for himself. In this movie, Trisha has an equally important role as Simbu.

Conclusion: (Wow, like assignment huh??)

This is a movie one should watch with friends or spouse. It is not meant for family audience. Honestly, I felt awkward during the swearing and kissing scenes. Hahaha.... But if you're a fan of AR Rahman, Gautham Menon, Simbu and Trisha - then this is the movie for you. Go have fun.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Merchant of Venice reflection...

This semester’s English Studies assignment was one that was highly anticipated and very much expected not just by the students of MARJON 2 but the entire college. It was a group assignment as we were supposed to stage a play based on The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.

As an individual, I learned a lot of good values that I could put to use in my everyday life. There is no doubt that this by working on making this play a success, my course mates and I have managed to come closer as a group. Eunice and I were given the responsibility of handling the music direction. I was also given the task of portraying a minor character called the Prince of Morocco.

A good lesson I learned while completing this assignment was the evils of prejudice. This is exactly why I don’t see the character of Shylock as completely cruel. It was the society he lived in that ‘taught’ him how to become heartless. I still do not understand why Shakespeare had to portray Shylock as being evil as well as showing mercy to his character. If Shakespeare was trying to educate the society then on the negative aspects of prejudice, then why do it like this? Perhaps portraying a Jew as a good person would have been controversial in that era. But it surely teaches us how it can shape a person’s character and even turn him or her into someone ruthless. I also realized that I now really understand the message the play is trying to convey. It is totally different than merely memorizing facts discussed in class. Simplifying the text of the play one scene after another in order to modernize it really gave me an insightful lesson of what the play is all about.

Since this assignment was to be completed in a team, I learned a lot on the meaning of teamwork. I had to coordinate with people with different working styles, which proved to be quite a challenge. I had to work alongside people from different departments such as the lighting people and the multimedia people. Everyone had different point of views on things and was constantly looking into their own convenience. I had to accept all of these maturely by not taking any of it too personally. I have worked in groups many times over this assignment had definitely taught me the most on teamwork.

The next thing I learned through this assignment is respect. By learning to respect others’ opinions and differences, I felt as if I had bypassed another level of maturity altogether. Some of my course mates might have behaved offensively by refusing to accept others’ opinions by making sure they had the last say. But that does not necessarily mean I had to act the same way, and for the very first time in my life, I realized that! If I was in this position one or two years back, I would have reacted differently. I was rather unhappy when a few of my fellow course mates did not like my interpretation of the Prince of Morocco despite Madam Rose, one of my English Studies lecturers complimenting me on it. They insisted I work on another one and guided me all the way through. But when I explained to them some of my ideas, they did show some respect for me by actually listening and understanding what I had to say.
Besides that, I also learned much on how to handle conflicts. By staging this play, I have learned to put aside my emotions and personal dissatisfactions in order to work together with people different from me. A very valuable lesson I learned during the many weeks of countless rehearsals and practices is that though someone may be very different to you and might not even look eye to eye with you in almost everything, it does not make him or her a bad person. This might explain why I have so much more respect to my superiors now than I did before. They managed to bring together the class as one big group by putting aside their own personal conflicts, and I followed their footsteps on this all the way through.

Procedure is another lesson I learnt during this period. Despite most of the practices and rehearsal being conducted informally without the presence of any lecturers, there still exists a certain procedure that everyone had to obey. I never had a firsthand experience on how it was like going against it, but witnessing what others went through surely was a wake-up-call. A fellow course mate who happened to be the leader of his committee took matters into his own hand by not consulting the director, her assistants or anyone in that matter on a decision he made by himself and had to face the music eventually once everything he worked on had to be scrapped off. Even the director and her assistants would consult the class on any large scale decisions they had to make in order to count votes. As a result, I made sure everyone was alright with my choice of song to be played during the credits after the ending of the play – Ever Ever After. Some of my friends had their own choices, and I agreed to play them after this song, just so to make everyone happy. But I also made sure they were suitable to be used too. Democracy is most certainly the best policy.

As a result, I have come out a better man after the staging of this play. I dare not say to what extend because I definitely have much more to learn in the future. Not only have I learned literature, but I was indirectly motivated to become a better person in many ways. As I sit down and reflect on what I have learned and transfer it all down onto paper, it is all clear how different it is to work in a group. It is more fun and challenging at the same time. I look forward to another assignment where the whole class can work together once again as
a group.