Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Portrait of my CT

My grandpa’s younger brother did not have any grandchildren of his own.  While in her late 20s, his daughter – his only child - had made the decision to stay unmarried.  She chose to lead a life that was completely dedicated to social activism and writing.  Conversations about her marriage were minimal.  After a while, they ceased to exist.  As far as typical father-daughter interactions in middle class India were concerned, this was as far from the norm as Chennai (my hometown, in India) is from Chicago.  After all, this is the land of arranged marriages.  But CT never cared much about societal norms.  CT – that was short for Chinna Thatha which, in my native language, refers to a grandfather’s younger brother.  CT is the kind of nickname that a kid will coin right before filing for creative bankruptcy.  I was that kid.  But somehow, miraculously, he found it cute and so, the name stuck. 

CT was a short man.  In small part due to genetics and in no small part due to his lovely wife’s delectable cooking, he was a tad overweight.  A lightly starched cotton shirt and a neatly ironed dhoti (a traditional Indian garment) comprised his preferred attire.  He applied coconut oil to bring some discipline to the thick shocks of hair that he was blessed with.  His ranch house in Chennai was built in the 1960s.  I especially loved the pillars near the threshold.  It was not an ostentatious home and was beautiful precisely for that reason.  The warmth and glow of the home came not just from the large open windows.  There was an inexplicable coziness in the off-white, worn-out sofa.  CT and his home were not dissimilar to one another.  Both derived their richness from their simplicity.  Both gave you the feeling that you were a welcome addition to their existence just by virtue of being in their vicinity.  Both belonged to an earlier era, yet had aged gracefully, exuding a sense of stability and unfussy perfection. 

CT was 44 years older than me.  It is a fact – not an opinion, mind you – that I was his favorite among the kids in our extended family!  Cricket - the sport, not the insect – was the durable glue that cemented our bond.  Both of us loved the game.  He got me to be not only passionate about the sport but also think about it deeply.  He would occasionally give me some nuggets of wisdom around leadership and teamwork based on his vast knowledge of the game.  But since I adored the sport and its players, it never came across as didactic.  Plus he was a fabulous raconteur, telling stories with the right mix of facts and spice.  One of his favorite stories was that of an Indian cricket team captain who refused to kowtow to the authorities and fought for his team over the miniscule salaries that were paid to the players.  The captain paid the price for his recalcitrance and lost his place in the team while the other players got a discernible hike in pay.  CT would say that the panjandrums who felt victorious destroying the captain’s career had actually lost a bigger battle.  It was years later that I could understand why this story resonated with him.  CT had quit his fledgling career as a lawyer because he could not stand the corruption and dishonesty that ran rampant in his practice.  He decided that the fight was not worth it because the system would not accommodate the values that he stood for.  He later had a fulfilling career as a marketer for an alloy manufacturer. 

Acceptance.  As I think of the one word that I would associate most with CT, it is ‘acceptance’ that scrolls across my mind in font size 72, especially as it relates to his attitude towards his daughter.  His unshakable belief was that freedom was not something that he had to give my Aunt.  Rather, within the bounds of conscientiousness, he believed that she owned her freedom of thought, choice and expression and he saw it as his duty to not impinge on that.  My Aunt’s choices, be it the decision to stay single, have communist leanings or espouse atheism were all unconventional for the mores of the society around her.  But CT respected every one of her choices wholeheartedly.  He was a deeply pious Brahmin (a subsect of Hindus) but he proudly announced to me one day that my Aunt’s latest book was her best work yet.  The book’s title – Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium.  This, coming from a person that spent 45 minutes every morning in his prayer room, was remarkable.  The acceptance of the space that he believed was his daughter’s stemmed from a quiet assurance about his own space.  That, I believe, was empowerment of a special kind.  If I grow up to be half as thoughtful a parent to my son, then I am sure that CT will be happy with my parenting abilities. 

On Saturday, January 22, 2005, he stepped out of his house and suddenly collapsed, never to get up.  He had had a fatal cardiac arrest.  He was 67.  Just about the only comforting thought that I have about CT’s rather sudden death is the fact that he did not undergo any suffering.  It was an abrupt end to a meaningful chapter in my life.  But as we all know, the themes of a book often get established in important chapters.

Continue to rest in peace, CT.  Just know that I miss you.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Yes, I have regrets

I make very good chai tea latte, I am told.  But I have not made a single cup of tea for my grandpa.  He used to relish his evening cup of tea, as he confabulated with his childhood friend.  He passed away rather suddenly in an auto accident in 1994 - he was 61, I was 13.  Had I made tea for him, he would have enjoyed the taste, aroma and the gesture in equal measure. 

When I was a high school student in India, my Aunt was going through a personal crisis.  The details are not important.  Sure, the rest of the family rallied around her.  But I reckon she would have appreciated a little more empathy from me.  I was young.  I was brash.  These are not excuses for insensitivity.  It is how I was back then.  My Aunt passed away last October at the age of 49.  Did she know that I was sorry for my callousness as a teenager?

I did not get that yellow graduation cord in 2002.  At Carnegie Mellon University, students who graduate with honors are presented with a yellow cord around their neck at the time of getting their certificate.  When I did my Masters, our Grade Point Average (GPA) had to be at or above 3.75 out of 4.  In my last semester, I had done well enough to recover from a slump.  My GPA ended up being 3.71.  Or so I thought.  One of my professors sent out an e-mail stating that there was an error in the grading of the final exam.  Recalculations were done.  And my grade for that course changed from a B+ to an A-.  My revised GPA was three point seven four.  Why could I not be left with a 3.71?  Why did I have to miss out on that yellow cord by 0.01, the minimum possible difference?  Of course, I could have worked even harder to not let this near miss happen in the first place.  In the final analysis, I had done well but graduated without honors.  Without that yellow cord, I might add.

I got a very polite letter from the Fuqua School of Business in 2007.  When I was applying to business schools, the one school that I fell in love with at first sight was Fuqua at Duke University.  The curriculum seemed fantastic and the vibes that I experienced when I visited the school were magical.  As I walked out of the interview, I said to myself, “I belong here.”  But after enduring an excruciating period of being on the wait list, I was informed that I had been not admitted.  

Regrets about loved ones, regrets about close misses, regrets about not getting something I desired – yes, I have had regrets.  But there are a few reasons why those thoughts don’t pervade too many recesses of my mind.

Last December, I had gone to Atlanta to meet with some of my friends.  These are friends that I have known since high school.  I was meeting with them after three years.  Before the trip, I felt this inexplicable but strong urge to make tea for them.  So, after getting permission from the friend who hosted us, I took my loose tea, tea press, kettle and milk frother all to Atlanta!  And I made tea for them twice a day for the duration of my trip.  Especially memorable was a moment during a late night session of board games when one of my buddies asked if I could make tea.  It felt nice.  As the tea was brewing, one of my regrets was being vaporized. 

After completing my high school, I had moved to the US in 1998.  My Aunt continued to live in India.  In my early years in the US, along with homesickness came a pang of guilt.  And for the rest of her life, I was a much nicer nephew to my Aunt.  To her, true munificence stemmed out of thoughtfulness of gesture rather than any expensive gifts.  I understood this and spent quality time with her.  I just wish I had more time with her.  One of the things that she wished for was that I be a good husband to my wife.  Ever since she passed away, I have made sincere attempts to go the extra mile to make my wife feel special, cared for and loved in a purer, unconditional manner.  I have a feeling that my Aunt will be smiling from up above.  That beatific smile of hers that I cannot see in person anymore obscures a regret that I do not feel anymore. 

I did not do my MBA at Fuqua.  Instead, I went back to Carnegie Mellon, to their Tepper School of Business.  When I graduated in 2009, I had finished with a GPA that ensured that something could go around my neck when I received my diploma - a luminous yellow cord. 

Some stories have a neat little ending.  Others do not.  But we can, along with destiny, co-author a sequel that completes the story in an unexpectedly fulfulling manner.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Train of thought: A piece on train sequences in Tamil cinema

The early 2000s was a period when I was discovering old classics of Kamal Hassan.  His work, from the late 80s till Hey! Ram, had consistently left me mesmerized.  So much so that I craved more and started evincing keen interest in his early movies, especially with stalwarts like K Balachander.  I had watched Arangetram, Aboorva RaagangaL and Nizhal Nijamagiradhu.  I felt like Nizhal… was the movie where he truly came into his own as an actor.  Gone was the gawkiness of the earlier movies.  It was replaced by a newfound refinement, especially in his body language.  I liked him even more in AvargaL, in the strong role of a kindhearted person, whose love for a divorced woman goes unrequited.  

In the climactic sequence of AvargaL, which takes place at the train station, there is not a lot of dramatic tension.  But for the first time, I realized how one could use the location to underscore an emotion, to highlight the pangs of separation.  I had, of course, watched Kamal’s brilliant performance in the climax of Moondram Pirai before.  That sequence was, needless to say, an amazing showcase for his acting talent.  But I think I was so entranced by Kamal’s emoting that I felt that the location just played a supporting role.  In AvargaL though, there is very little demonstration of emotion by Kamal or Sujatha.  Kamal has to internalize his own pain as he lets go of her.  And the train that gradually picks up pace, magnifies the impact of his sadness and yearning.  As one person embarks on a new ‘journey’, the other one continues his travel, alone, without a meaningful destination in sight. 

Trains have been used a lot in Tamil movies, sometimes in a clichéd, lazy manner, at other times not so.  The closed setting has been used to add to the sensuality of a romance.  The setting has been used skillfully to establish the subtext of a journey of two characters slowly falling in love or drifting apart.  On other occasions, trains have been used as a fitting backdrop to evoke a sense of fun and camaraderie.  They have been used to give an extra shot of adrenaline in superbly choreographed action pieces.  There have also been some magnificently choreographed songs on a train or at a railway station.  And as mentioned earlier, they have been used as an effective backdrop for climactic scenes.  For each of romance / love, action, fun, songs and climax, I have listed below a few noteworthy scenes that I can recollect, recommending one video for each category.  Chug along...err, read on!

Romance / Love Story:

Noteworthy Movies:
  • ·         Alaipayuthey
  • ·         Rhythm
  • ·         The Prasanna – Kanika interaction in Five Star
  • ·        The Suriya – Sameera Reddy romance in Vaaranam Aayiram
  • ·        The Sarathkumar – Jyothika scenes in PatchaikiLi Muthucharam
My pick: The Suriya – Sameera Reddy scene in Vaaranam Aayiram

It’s hard to out beat the romance quotient of a sequence where the guy strums the guitar to Ilayaraja's "En Iniya Pon Nilave" and dedicates it to his newfound love in a train, with rain to boot!  


Songs:
  • ·         “Raja…” from Agni Natchathiram
  • ·         Chikku Bukkufrom Gentleman
  • ·         “Vellarika…” from Kadhal Koattai
  • ·        “Chayya Chayya…” from Dil Se… / Thayya Thayya… from Uyire…
  • ·         “Omana Penney…” from Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya
My pick: “Chayya Chayya…”

Amar Varma (Shah Rukh Khan) has fallen in love at first sight and wants the world to know that he is over the moon.  Well, he is over the train!  What a way to clue the viewer in to the mood of the protagonist!  AR Rahman’s foot-tapping tune is done full justice to by the choreographer Farah Khan and cinematographer Santhosh Sivan.  My two favorite shots start at 2:14 and 5:18.  Both are shot from outside the train and yet done in an amazingly synchronous manner.  Three things are in motion - the camera, the dancers and, of course, the train!

Let me post the original for the fans of Dil Se… instead of posting the dubbed Tamil version.  I am cheating a little but hey, I am not giving out National Awards here!


Action:
  • ·         Senthoora Poove
  • ·         Gentleman
  • ·         Thiruda Thiruda
  • ·         Kuruthi Punal
  • ·         Endhiran
  • ·         Lingaa
My pick: Senthoora Poove

I will vote for Senthoora Poove since it was the first of its kind in Tamil and the action is supremely well-choreographed.  It is heartening to think that there was actually a time when Vijaykanth had respect for Newton.

The train action portions start at around the 7-min point:

Comedy:
  • ·         Balaiya’s antics in Thillana MohanambaL
  • ·         Vadivelu’s chain snatching comedy in Aasai
  • ·         The journey to Thiruvaiyaru in Anniyan
  • ·         The friends and family trip in Chennai-28 Part-2
My pick: Anniyan

With due respect to the inimitable Balaiya, Vivek’s jokes are rip-roaring fun.  I remember watching Anniyan in a crowded theatre and the audience erupted in laughter at the Kamal Hassan kiss reference.  Even the way Vivek touches Vikram’s tuft is hilarious.


Climactic Sequence:
  • ·         AvargaL
  • ·         Moondram Pirai
  • ·         GopurangaL Saaivadhillai
  • ·         Mouna Raagam
  • ·         Thevar Magan
  • ·         Kadhal Koattai
My pick: Thevar Magan

Trains appear in four scenes in Thevar Magan, each signaling a step out of his comfort zone for the Kamal character – (1) his entry to the village (2) his send-off of Gowthami amid the riots (3) his final scene with Gowthami that ends with her peck on his cheek that is helpfully pointed out later, by his wife and (4) the astonishingly powerful climax.  Vaali’s lines form a kaleidoscope of emotions – despair, guilt and hope. (“Nallavazhi nee thaan solli yenna laabam?  Sonnavathane Soozhndhadhindru Paavam…Kalangathey Raasa…Kaalam Varattum…”)  It is not just Kamal but the entire cast that emotes wonderfully, including the supporting cast like Revathi, SN Lakshmi and Renuka.  Kamal prostrating in front of them is a gesture loaded with meaning.  What is he seeking – forgiveness? Blessings?  I reckon it is redemption.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Simran’s finest hour: A review of her performance in Kannathil Muthamittaal

Indira is a mother of three kids, one of whom is an adopted child.  She agrees to accompany her husband Thiruselvan to Sri Lanka in search of the adopted daughter’s biological mother.  A couple of days after they land, the three of them go on a bus journey to a village as part of this quest.  As they board the bus, Amudha, the daughter, decides to take a nap.  Thiru asks Indira, “Are you thinking of our kids back home?”  Indira, resting her chin on Thiru’s shoulder, responds, “For the sake of one child, we have left two back home.  I hope they are doing well.  I wonder how my father is taking care of them single handedly.”  Her response is honest but in an equally spontaneous moment, she quickly adds, “Amudha is still asleep, right?”  Simran, the mother, plays this little scene so exceptionally well that you could just watch this scene without any audio, look at her expressions, and understand what she is communicating to her husband. 

I recently revisited Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittaal (2002) and was struck by how I could not think of a single performance by an actress in Tamil in the past 15 years that I regard as better than this.  Aishwarya Rajesh in Kaaka Muttai, Priya Mani in Paruthi Veeran and Anjali in Kattradhu Thamizh (in that order) come close.  And one could even argue that these three actresses dubbed in their own voice for these movies whereas Deepa Venkat was the voice artist for Simran in Kannathil… But there are several moments of sublime internalization by Simran in this difficult role that makes her performance truly stand out.  More than the voice - Deepa Venkat does a fine job here, no doubt - it is her face and body language that speak volumes.  And for that, her performance in this movie deserves to be regarded as a crown jewel in any analysis of modern Tamil cinema.

The oonjal scene where she tries to answer Amudha’s (Keerthana, who won a richly deserved National award) questions about her biological mother and how and why she was adopted is a scene where the writing, acting, cinematography and production design all come together in the most cohesive, undemonstrative way.  In a recent interview, when asked if viewers might miss paying attention to all the technical aspects that bring a scene alive, Mani Ratnam thoughtfully remarked, “It is okay if they don’t notice it; as long as they sense it, that’s enough.”  I have watched Kannathil… multiple times in the past decade and I suppose I had always “sensed” how exquisite this scene was.  But it was only during this recent viewing that I paid attention to Simran’s minute, purposeful changes in body language that so perfectly suited the lines that she was delivering in this scene.  When Amudha asks a rather painful question (“Was I in a trash can when I was retrieved?”) she looks away uncertainly.  When the kid says, “Will you abandon me?” she hugs her tightly.  And when the kid wants further reassurance, she looks her in the eye and comforts her.  The scene has a deeply poignant end when Amudha asks, “Why did you tell me now?  You could have told me later.”  Indira knows that it is a question better left unanswered and just continues to hold on to her daughter in a comforting posture.  And Ratnam, ever the master of song placement, makes this scene lead to the soothing melody, “Oru Dheivam Thandha Poove…” 


Another sequence that merits a closer look is the railway station one.  Amudha, feeling confused and uncertain about her future, has run away from the house.  But thanks to a good samaritan, the parents receive a call that the kid is at the railway station.  While being informed of the daughter’s whereabouts on the phone, Indira pleads to the caller, “Please be with her till we come.”  En route to the station, Thiru tries to dismiss her feelings and asks her to stop crying.  Despite her vulnerabilities, she is an inherently steely person.  So she asks him to mind his own business.  And at the station, once she spots the kid, she looks intently, with pain, disappointment and even a bit of anger.  After they return home, as Amudha tries to apologize for her act, Indira, overcoming her own anger, hugs and kisses her in a loving manner.   And in a truly lifelike moment, she adds that she has to finish her chores!  Emotional upheavals or not, life goes on.  Simran is incandescent in this sequence, displaying myriad changes in tone in a seamless, artless, affecting manner.



It’s been a few days since I finished watching the movie.  And I reckon that apart from the stupendous level of acting by Simran, it is the way in which Mani Ratnam shaped the character that has led to my feeling compelled to dwell on her performance.  Simran appears in the movie with minimal make-up, simple but elegant clothing, hair not nearly as perfectly coiffed, as was the case in her other movies.  But her radiance in this movie comes from the intrinsic elements that she brings to the screen as well as these externals that result from Ratnam’s sure-footed shaping of her character and performance.  And the result of this truly artistic collaboration is a deeply fulfilling experience.

***



Monday, May 15, 2017

Between the Lines: A few thoughts on long-distance friendships

Handwritten greetings.  There is something about putting pen to paper.  Something in that ink – yes, I still use fountain pens – makes thoughts flow, I suppose!  Sending greeting cards along with a one-page letter via postal mail is a habit that I have had for the past 18 years.  My Chinna Thatha, who passed away rather suddenly in 2005, used to send me handwritten cards when I was young.  I even remember how he used to sign off – “Out of natural love and affection, R Varadarajan.”  I somehow found the word “natural” enormously touching.  I wonder if it is the rather special feeling that his cards gave me that made me pick up this habit.  18 years ago.  That was when I completed high school.  That was when I left the shores of Chennai and migrated with my parents to the US.  And that was when I bid goodbye to my group of friends at the Anna International Airport.  These friends form a very important part of my identity.  The space that I give myself on this blog is incredibly Lilliputian for me to start writing about each of them.  But there is one facet that I think I can do justice to – the long distance aspect of friendships.

Save a short period when one of these friends and I were roommates, I have not lived in the same city as any of them in these past 18 years.  All of them except one (who lives in Dubai) live in the US, none within a decent drivable distance.  Of course, thanks to technological advances, communication itself has become easier.  But the truth is, we live in a fast paced world.  As familial responsibilities and professional ambitions vie for time, space, not to mention energy, there are periods of silence.  Amid these stretches of time, handwritten wishes for birthdays are a mere tool that breaks the silence ephemerally.  It is a fleeting voice of emotion, an expression of a genuine sentiment.  But there are lot more spaces between the lines, so to say.  And, owing to extended periods with minimal communication, it is not a question of reading between the lines.  It is a question of filling in the blanks. 

Where there is trust, the process of filling in your own blanks works in the most fulfilling kind of way.  With this set of friends, the blanks have been akin to those pregnant pauses between two notes of scintillating, evocative music.  But outside of this group, I must say that I have had instances where the gaps have been filled with so much resentment and bitterness that the residual sadness has been analogous to the seemingly interminable pauses during a funeral dirge.   And, I would be utterly dishonest if I were to not take a fair share for the blame for relationships that went awry.

A couple of months back, I sent a card to a friend from my high school gang for his birthday.  In my usual one-page letter, I recounted how much a recent meeting, after three years, meant to me.  It was the first time after my Aunt’s passing away that I had met him.  He had, in an unfortunate coincidence, lost his Uncle in the intervening period.  When we had met, we spoke of our respective grieving experiences until the wee hours of the morning.  And in my card, I wrote that that meant much to me.  So, you would think that he would respond at least with a Whatsapp message that he received the card.  Well, you’d be wrong. (His wife, thankfully, acknowledged the card!)  But the funny thing is that I did not feel an iota of anger.  And trust me, I was not known for subtlety and understatement in the early years of our friendship.  Somehow, I just knew instinctively that the letter made him smile.  He might have shown it to his parents who are visiting him.  Or maybe he thought it was too sentimental and didn’t know how to respond!  I have no idea.  But there was something very satisfying about the fact that I could, in my mind’s eye, see him open the card and pause to reflect on its contents.  The 'blank' felt anything but that.  And I must thank my friend for having invested so much in our friendship that even in the absence of a response, I walked away with a special feeling.

Outside of this group, I have also had relationships where a failure to invest in quality time in one another during times of need and a lack of judgment around when the silences were too prolonged, proved to be a fatal one-two punch to the core of the friendship.  The mistakes that I made were twofold.  I assumed that the foundation of the relationship was unshakable.  As a result, I found it difficult to accept a changed dynamic that stemmed out of a strong reaction to perceived apathy on my part.  And worse, I did not make enough of an effort to communicate, not just talk, with the people concerned.  After a while, the blanks ceased to exist.  Not for a good reason – the ‘sentence’ just ended abruptly.  Every healthy relationship has as a core, a few hallmarks, a few traits that lend a unique kind of beauty to it.  When that core foundation of trust is shaken, the friends cease to be secure pillars of support to one another.  The pillars just collapse in a heap.  And the resultant rubble is a painful sight.  Which pillar collapsed quicker is an utterly needless question.  And so, pointing fingers can be an indulgent but ultimately futile exercise.

One of the reasons why Anu Hasan’s “Sunny Side Up” meant a lot to me was because she wrote honestly about failed friendships where each person had given the other a long enough rope and yet both parties felt like they were at the end of their tether.  Reflecting on my own successful and doomed friendships, I thought about the importance of exercising judgment and cutting some slack when it mattered the most.  But the book also gave me a sense of comfort and even closure, that as long as I am conscientious, I have to sometimes accept that certain relationships weren’t meant to last a lifetime.  That I am better off focusing on the lessons learned.  That if I keep watering the roots of my relationships with consistent sprinkles of trust, honesty, humor and empathy, the friendships will continue to be the deep-rooted and protective.  Then the birthday cards and one-page letters simply punctuate the silences in an immensely gratifying manner.  Even a friend’s failure to respond to a greeting just serves to then fill a blank with an amusing thought that culminates in the most comforting of punctuation marks - an exclamation point! 


***

Friday, May 5, 2017

Memories of Melodies: Thoughts on music director Vidyasagar

As a school kid growing up in Chennai in the mid 90s, I had two temptations that were incredibly hard to resist.  One was soft drinks.  Pepsi and Coca Cola fought tooth and nail with one another to increase my glucose levels.  The second temptation was to even harder to resist – to engage in spirited, though ultimately meaningless, debates on the quality of AR Rahman’s music.  It sounded different.  But were the outputs of his keyboard better than the magic of the maestro’s harmonium?  Much money was squandered on audio cassettes (they existed, I promise!) and much valuable time was spent away from differential equations and organic chemistry!  Amidst all this was a music director named Vidyasagar that caught my attention.  Hmm, scratch that.  Amidst all this was a song – the marvelous melody, “Malare Mounama…” – that made people pause during their heated Raja vs. Rahman conversations.  I remember listening to this song on Sun TV, then learning that the movie’s name was Karnaa and then finding out that the man that mesmerized me with this beautiful composition was Vidyasagar.  But the best part was that just when I thought that this man might find it very difficult to surpass the peak that he had scaled with “Malare…”, he proved me wrong.  Time and again.



I bought the audio cassette of Karnaa and played it so often that batteries for my walkman needed a separate line item in our household budget!  As lovely a song as “Malare…” was, I realized that I equally enjoyed the “Puththam Pudhu Desam” number in the same album.  I was recently listening to “Puththam Pudhu…” and was stunned by how this song was catchy and melodious at the same time.  Sung by two greats SPB and S Janaki, this song starts off sounding like a catchy duet but by the time it gets to the charanam, Vidyasagar has seamlessly transformed it into a melody, only to soar again with the “kaadhal endru sonnaal…” bit.  Karnaa did fairly well and he got a few subsequent offers in Tamil.

But an unfortunate, unwritten rule in Tamil cinema has been to stick to a nonexistent correlation between the success of a movie and the worth of a technician.  And so, a slew of box office failures meant that Vidyasagar had to find work in Malayalam and other languages outside of Tamil.  While I have heard anecdotally of his stellar work in Malayalam, I had rarely listened to any of his non Tamil language songs.  It was with his fantastic work in Snehithiye (2000) that he well and truly resurfaced in Tamil movies. (Thank you, Priyadarshan!)  And for close to a decade, he went from strength to strength, working in many commercially successful, critically praised movies with good directors, big stars and most importantly meaningful stories (Anbe Sivam, to cite one example) that gave him tremendous impetus to come up with some delightful tunes.  

It is rather sad that, again, the box office fate of some of his movies in the past few years have meant that he is rarely seen – heard, to be more precise – in Tamil anymore.  I can only hope that, true to his name, he gets opportunities to showcase his oceanic knowledge of music.  I wish that filmmakers, with an eye for melody, don’t turn a blind eye to his abilities.  Alas, this might just a plea yelled out in a vacuum.  But the fact that I felt a strong, inexplicable need to record my lament is really the result of all the pleasure that his music has given me.  It pains me that I need to go back in time, instead of enjoying newer pleasures that his music is fully capable of gifting listeners.  For now, I will leave you with a dozen of my favorite Vidyasagar songs.  

Sincere thanks to all the youtube video owners.  Be warned – the visuals don’t always stack up to the aural delights!  So, I have assigned a picturization score for the songs - let's call it PS.  On a scale of 1-5, 1 signifies an eye sore and 5 denotes a visual delight.

1. "Malare Mounama" from Karnaa (PS - 3)
https://youtu.be/AFPOgNmkLZs

2. “Puththam Puthu Desam” from Karnaa (PS - 1)
https://youtu.be/aRKOFlqxTTo

3. “Thaamara Poovukum” from Pasumpon (PS - 3)
https://youtu.be/RUXLixo2bHI

4. “Vennilave Vellai Poove” from Sengottai (PS - 1)
https://youtu.be/ijU1xt6L8yo

5. “Devadhai Vamsam” from Snehithiye (PS - 5)
https://youtu.be/eBSWIt9jZmI

6. “Kadhal Vandhadhum” from Poovellam Un Vaasam (PS - 4)
https://youtu.be/CzaZcqrMxQY

7. “Theradi Veedhiyil” from Run (PS - 4)
https://youtu.be/bxX0a16conU

8. “Poo Vaasam” from Anbe Sivam (PS - 5)
https://youtu.be/VUTeTglqX3s

9. “Aalanguyil” from Parthiban Kanavu (PS - 5)
https://youtu.be/8-M-MVjSPoA

10. “Sudum Nilavu” from Thambi (PS - 3)
https://youtu.be/-NV2ov1ELmA

11. “La La La” from Poi (PS - 3)
https://youtu.be/qo5GM63clAc

12. “Kaatrin Mozhi” from Mozhi  (PS - 5)

Friday, April 21, 2017

An Ode to the Written Word

The time was 5:16 am.  I was in deep slumber yesterday when the rather unpleasant din from my alarm shook me up a little.  Yes, I do have my superstitions.  My alarm times have to add up to 12.  No, that is not my lucky number.  It was my grandpa’s.  Please don’t ask me to rationalize.  I already said it – it’s a superstition!  So, I walked downstairs to my kitchen, opened the blinds and saw that it was quite perfect for an early morning jog.  After doing my yoga, I was putting on my socks and shoes to head out.  Next to my chair, I noticed the latest edition of TIME.  On the cover was a picture of the enterprising COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg.  Next to her profile picture were the words, “Let’s talk about grief.”  Grief.  It is a topic that I don’t take for granted.  I could hazard a guess that it was about the loss of her husband (who had passed away at the age of 47).  I wanted to read it right then.  But I equivocated for a few seconds – do I want to read that article?  Or, do I want to go out running?  I chose the latter because I have a certain fondness for the orange sky in the mornings.  But even as I stepped out, I did not turn on my iPod, as is my wont.  As the tea was brewing in the kitchen, so were my thoughts around the headline that I had just seen.  I asked myself, “How does a person like Sandberg, who has such a pivotal role to play in one of the most game-changing companies on the face of earth, balance work and personal life in the wake of a tremendous tragedy?”

By the time I had returned, I sat down, with my chai in hand, to read the article.  I had the answer to my question: Sandberg threw herself back into work, while not being oblivious of her grieving experience.  There was one line in the article that was poignant and eloquent in equal measure – “Dying is not a glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature.”  Yes, that is true – it’s just that this “feature” features in certain systems way before it should or when we are least expecting it.  This is one operating system that has no consistency across units, no reliability and no testing that could make it foolproof!  The fault therein lies in the inventor, I mused.  But my point (finally!) is that the written word made me pause, reflect and it made me…write!  Let me elaborate…

The first non-fiction book that I read was Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” back in 2008.  Up until then, I had written a few short stories and several movie reviews.  But I had never written much about things that meant something to me, things that bothered me or things that I wanted to be.  It was in the summer of 2010 that I read Sheena Iyengar’s “The Art of Choosing.”  Pausch (who passed away in 2008) and Iyengar have since then become the two great influences of my life.  Not only did they inspire me in certain enduring ways – Pausch for making me focus on the right things professionally and personally, Iyengar for making me prioritize in ways that I had scarcelyimagined – but they also inspired me to get inspired!  I realized that the wider I opened my eyes and put on the lens of perspective gifted to me by different writers (be it bloggers, critics or book authors) that the world, starting with that person in the mirror, could be seen differently.  I also realized that by writing about people like Iyengar (who was the first in my “Inspirations” series), that I was fleshing my thoughts better and making it personal.  That is why after every book that I read, I allow myself a period of rumination instead of going to the next book.  I let the book sink in and see what else I can learn from it and execute on at home or at work.

When I write non-fiction, it typically falls into two categories – film related or about topics or people that mean something to me.   When it comes to analyzing films, I usually have my thoughts fleshed out in my mind prior to writing a piece – my write-ups are just my expressions of reaction, be it awe (“Rhythm”), admiration (“Kaatru VeLiyidai”) or sometimes, just plain irritation (“Kandhasamy”).  But when it comes to, say a person, a book or an area of personal interest (such as talent management) that I want to write about, the writing begins, the thoughts follow.  When I am lucky, the thoughts become epiphanies. (At least, to me they are epiphanies!)  One of my articles which had a bit of a therapeutic value for me was my piece on grieving that I wrote following my Aunt’s passing away last year.  I started the piece knowing that I just wanted to vent about my grief but by the time I ended it, I had, to an extent,  come to peace with myself.  My last line of that piece went, “The show is over.  But the highlights will continue to play...”  It is a line that I am glad that I wrote.  Because it helps me reconcile to the fact that I will see my Aunt only in my mind’s eye, for the rest of my life.  (Now you know why Sandberg’s piece made me perk up yesterday even before the sun did.)  And it is my hope that people that read my pieces – especially the non-film related ones- walk away with something that makes them think or even smile.  Also, the best part of the blog sphere is that the traditional one-way communication from an author to a reader has transformed into a dialogue between the two.  And that dialogue is a gift that keeps on giving.  And I must thank those that engage, sometimes indulge, me in that two-way conversation.

As I look back, the written word – both mine and that of others - has been a lock that has offered closure on certain issues; it has been a key that helps me unlock certain mysteries – such as theism- that I can't necessarily solve but at least appreciate and accept the complexities of.  It has been the foundational stone of friendships that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.  And it has been a pillar that has sometimes supported my drooping shoulders.  So, with this write-up, I profusely, sincerely thank writing itself!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Kaatru VeLiyidai – a movie review

There is a sensational scene in Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru VeLiyidai where VC (Karthi), a fighter pilot, takes Leela Abraham  (Aditi Rao Hydari, playing a Doctor) on a ride on one of his planes.  While the plane is still on the ground, Leela reveals something about her sibling, a connection that VC never knew existed.  VC requests her repeatedly to smile – he comments that the siblings have a very similar grin – making Leela conscious.  Nevertheless, she secretly enjoys the extra attention that this revelation has led to.  As the plane’s engine revs up, the camera shakes vigorously and then steadies up as the plane takes flight. (We get the feeling that we are on the flight with them!)  Overcome by the beauty of the snow-kissed mountains and basking in the flickering of her heart’s lamp, Leela’s defenses are lowered for the first time, and certainly not the last. 



This sequence, which ends outside Leela’s house (when VC drops her off), is an example of so much that is good about this movie – a complex romance set in the time of the Kargil war - as well as the elements that don’t work.  First and foremost, Aditi’s magnificent performance - she owns this movie.  Her ability to confidently hold lengthy close-up shots, switch expressions in a matter of seconds and project feelings of strength, disappointment and vulnerability all equally well, are truly awe-inspiring.  This scene, as is the movie, is this actor’s showcase.  Secondly, the staging and the cinematography.  The frames that Ratnam and cinematographer Ravi Varman compose, deserve approbation not only for the beauty of the visuals but also a certain ineffable quality that they bring to the movie.  Soul, perhaps?  Just the way this flight scene and several other sequences are shot, take us to the emotional core of many moments than the way those sequences were written. 

But one marvelous performance and superb staging alone cannot make a movie.  As I think beyond these two elements, some of the issues of Kaatru VeLiyidai come to the fore.  Firstly, Karthi’s uneven performance.  It is a challenging role for him, no doubt.  This character is not soaked in shades of white and is markedly different from any of the roles that he has played thus far.  And, I didn’t know where to lay the blame for the weakness of his performance - at his feet, the writer’s or just the fact that his casting didn’t work.  Maybe it’s a combination of more than one factor.  Actors like Karthik (in his heyday), Madhavan and Dulquer Salman have a twinkle in their eye and an easygoing onscreen persona that bring a certain amount of effortless charm to their acting.  But they can also go a step further and combine that innate persona with a certain edge, resulting in a magical concoction.  Karthik in Agni Natchathiram, Madhavan in Aaytha Ezhuthu and Irudhi Sutru, Dulquer in Kali, are instances of the persona of the actor finding a perfect match in a multi-layered role.  That sadly is not the case with Karthi here and the struggle shows on screen.  Be it the scene outside Aditi’s house where he sings a song or the seemingly interminable monologue at the dinner table where he tries to allay the concerns of Aditi’s parents, there is something constantly off-key about him in Kaatru VeLiyidai.  It is a relief that he makes the all-important climactic sequence work; he is fantastic here.

As I mentioned earlier, the staging of some of the sequences is so fabulous that it overshadows the writing at times.  That is a good thing because I found the writing to be similar to Karthi’s performance – sparkling in some parts, unconvincing in others.  The episode featuring Karthi’s family, for instance, is written horribly.  The purpose of this extended sequence is to show the origins of Karthi’s selfishness and shades of a male chauvinistic attitude (despite an innate goodness).  But the writing is so clunky that the emotional resonance is zilch.  Had Karthi’s confrontation with his father and Aditi at the hospital worked, our empathy for his character would have increased manifold.  (To see how this can be done effectively, watch the “Raji madhiri ponnu” episode of Suhasini’s Penn, where Raghuvaran plays a spoiled child who inherited bad habits from his Dad.  It is available on Youtube.)

The sequence where Karthi escapes from the Rawalpindi prison is, again, a deftly shot action sequence with a scintillating background score.  But this sequence should have evoked the level of tension of the Shah Rukh - Kamal Hassan soda factory sequence in Hey Ram.  Instead, I was appalled at the apparent effortlessness (with the police firing from all sides) with which Karthi goes to the back of the truck.  Sure, he is supposedly a fearless fighter pilot but a little more tension would have been more apropos.  I mention this in the context of the writing to underscore the fact that the staging, at times, doesn’t find an able partner in the content.  And that hurts the movie.  When we should be witnessing VC's desperation to get back to Leela, we instead see someone escape from a prison in another country as though he is playing a video game.

But when the writing works, as is the case with the plane sequence that I mentioned at the start, the result is memorable.  This is also the case with some of the scenes with more depth.  The pregnancy scene is one where it all comes together beautifully.   This scene – as opposed to the unbearable dinner table monologue – is one that has a stunning start, slowly building tension and an unforgettable conclusion.  As the camera gently zooms in from up above, moving towards the two characters lying in bed, the drama – aided by the splendid lines – intensifies.  The actors too don’t miss a beat here, explaining their stance in a manner that seems just right, given the nature of their characters. 

The other reason why I think this movie didn’t transcend from a supremely well-crafted, interesting romance into a classic is because outside of Aditi and (to a much lesser extent) Karthi, none of the characters registered.  While one might think that it is not a huge factor in a movie that is laser-focused on its lead pair, I beg to differ.  Strong supporting characters can add a lot of weight to the drama.  And the good ones will even do things to enhance the lead actor’s performance.  Let me explain.  Delhi Ganesh appears in this movie in a miniscule role as Aditi’s grandpa.  But there is no presence.  It is no fault of this great actor; it’s just that there is nothing for him to do except be around.  Contrast this to another example featuring the same actor.  In Nayagan – the ultimate one-man show, you might think – Ganesh plays the role of a loyal aide of Kamal’s.  In none of the scenes does he have a great deal to do.  But in the crucial funeral scene, as Kamal nears the dead body of his son, Ganesh gently says, “Vendaam Naaykare…kozhandhaiku nerupu kaayam nerayya patruku…”  What it adds to the impact of Kamal’s performance is hard to quantify but the impact is absolutely real.  There is not one such moment here featuring the talented Ganesh, RJ Balaji, Rukmini or the wooden non-actors that play Karthi’s family members.  And, Kaatru VeLiyidai is poorer for that.

As I walked out of the movie, there were frames that kept flitting in and out of my mind’s eye.  It is a testament to Ratnam’s ability as a filmmaker that so many differing thoughts were occupying my mind in lieu of a simple, “I enjoyed it” or “No, I hated it.”  But it is the same Ratnam that has given me more fulfilling experiences.  So, at the end of the day, Kaatru VeLiyidai might have fallen short of the Himalayan peaks scaled by not only Karthi’s planes in this movie but also several of Ratnam’s previous ventures.  But he surely does take us on one hell of a ride.  
***

Saturday, April 8, 2017

To (Na)sser, with love: Reflections on actor and director Nasser

In a Whatsapp group that I am a part of, there were recently a slew of comments on actor Nasser, with some that knew him well extolling his virtues as a person and others familiar with his rich body of work picking their favorite performances.  I resisted from commenting because I felt that I would struggle to capture the extent of my awe and respect for him as an actor, in a few comments on Whatsapp.  (I do not know him personally so I will stick to talking about his performances.)  In an illustrious career that has spanned 32 years since his debut feature “Kalyana AgathigaL” (directed by the late K Balachander), he has essayed a variety of roles, many significant, others not so memorable.  But as I reflect on the range of his performances – not just the roles themselves – it does make my jaw drop.  That is because of how he has invariably played his roles at a pitch that is absolutely right for the tone of the movie and the style of filmmaking.  And what adds luster to his performances is how he invariably manages to bring even stereotypical characters come to life with little touches, adding shades and nuances, but rarely calling out undue attention to the process of his performance.  Instead, as the cliché goes, he dissolves into the character.  For an actor that is seen so often on screen, that is no mean task.

Let me take three examples to illustrate this –Thevar Magan, Bombay and Jeans.  In Thevar Magan, he played the pugnacious antagonist whose hatred for Sivaji Ganesan’s family runs so deep that you could be swimming down vertically all day and still not reach rock bottom!  Starting from his first scene, where he is forcefully dragging a hound by its leash, there is something raw and bestial about his character.  Even the “thoongura mirugam...” lines seem superfluous, that’s how well he plays the role.  The panchayat scene where he insults Sivaji is one where his body language and dialogue delivery are stupendous.  Forget the vitriolic lines, just the way he says, “thaamadham aayrichu…” without apologizing for being tardy sets up the confrontation superbly.  Of course, due credit has to be given to the writing (Kamal Hassan) and direction (Bharathan).  In Jeans, he played the role of Siamese twins that are identical only in looks.  The climax where he turns around and stares hard at his brother for duping him (the brother’s reaction is even more priceless) was so superbly done that you could be forgiven for thinking that Nasser has a secret twin brother that the world doesn’t know about! 

Watch his expressions starting at 2:37 - 

But to me, one of his greatest performances has to be that of Aravind Swamy’s father in Bombay.  I have always felt that his character arc conveyed the essence of Bombay even more than the travails of Aravind Swamy’s family and the final religious union scene.  He plays a staunch, religious, ritualistic Hindu who even taunts his Muslim rival (Kitty) by asking for bricks with the name “Ram” inscribed on it!  Mani Ratnam’s detailing of this character is exquisite.  He even manages to infuse gentle, unforced humor into scenes such as the one where Nasser dresses up his grandkids in traditional Hindu outfits, (with three streaks of holy ash on their foreheads, no less!) as he welcomes Kitty to Bombay!  I love the moment where Kitty exclaims, “Yah Allah” and Nasser promptly replies, “Siva siva!”  But by the end of the movie, not only has he accepted his daughter-in-law but also realizes the error of his ways and the futility of religious fanaticism when Kitty rescues him outside the temple.  The final scene of this character – he retrieves the Holy Quoran even as he is fighting for his life amidst the riots – is one that showcases the power of cinema and its ability to evoke a lump in one’s throat.


Thanks to Kamal Hassan, we have also seen some great comic performances from Nasser.  Be it in Magalir Mattum, Avvai Shanmugi or Mumbai Express, his comic turns have been a great pleasure to watch because he can run the gamut from being poker faced and deliver funny lines (Mumbai Express) or go completely zany as in the case of the other two movies.  There is a scene in Magalir Mattum where he attempts to gift a saree to his subordinate Revathi only to be excoriated by her.  Unable to bear the insult, he goes in front of the AC vent in his office to let the cool air blow on his face.  His expressions –having lost his face – are a joy to behold.  And this scene has an even crazier finish (scripted by “Crazy” Mohan) as he is caught red handed by his wife as he is hitting on the maid servant (played wonderfully by Rohini).  A far cry indeed from Maya Thevan of Thevar Magan

See his expressions at the 30:30 min point:

As a director, he has made some genuinely interesting films such as Avatharam and Dhevadhai.  But the commercial failure of his lesser efforts like Pop Carn has made him move away from direction.  In the context of his directorial capabilities, I feel like I have seen only glimpses of his potential, instead of an entire 2 ½ hour stretch of sustained excellence.  The court scene in Avatharam, the picturization of the “Oru NaaL…” song in Dhevadhai and Mohan Lal’s confrontations with Simran in Pop Carn have all been rare strokes of brilliance on canvases that were envisioned with thought, painted with care and yet something felt missing in the overall picture.  But on the flip side, the lack of commercial pressure (owing to some of his past failed productions) have freed him up to be relatively choosy as an actor and to make a strong impact in roles such as the lovable patriarch of Saivam.



In his fourth decade as an actor, he deserves to be treated with much respect by directors who must resist from casting him in clichéd roles to get their sometimes ill-conceived ventures a patina of respectability.  Instead, as the next generation of writers and filmmakers such as Karthik Subburaj and Narein Karthik weave fresh tales, they must look to knit more tailor-made roles deserving of Nasser’s stature.  And by doing that, they can ensure that we, in our Whatsapp groups, can stop revisiting the past to pick his best performances!

Friday, March 24, 2017

10 'reasons' why the SPB – Ilaiyaraja issue is unfortunate

It is amazing how fast news travels.  No sooner had Ilayaraja’s legal notice to SPB probably arrived in his inbox than many music lovers who had access to the internet felt righteous indignation and started posting their reactions.  If some of those reactions - as genuine as they were -  weren’t hysterical enough, there were some so-called experts who reveled in the news du jour of the moment and started mentioning non-existent copyright laws, only for others to say that these self-professed pundits had no clue what they were talking about!  There were a few voices of reason appealing for a bit of calm and urging people to not respond without knowing the facts fully.  There were others like comedian Vivek, director CS Amudhan and actor Mohan Raman who voiced their opinions in a very balanced manner.  But a common thread ran across every reaction.  That it was unfortunate that two people who had given us great joy – one through the genius of his music and another through the beauty and versatility of his voice – were going through a crisis. (I am not using the word ‘spat’ since I have no idea what is truly going on, what led to it and what is poised to happen as a result.)

Special thanks to Ravishanker for the wonderfully witty cartoon.  Ravishanker (aka Zola) blogs at https://thezolazone.wordpress.com/
As a fan that doesn’t know either of them personally and as an ignoramus when it comes to copyright laws, I instead choose to rewind the clock (should I say ‘cassette’, given that era?) a few decades in time and mention 10 songs that resulted from their collaboration.  These are 10 songs – among innumerable others – that gave me immense pleasure.  Some songs have had me calm my senses, others have made me tap my feet.  These are the memories that I want to have of them long after one stops playing the harmonium and the other stops singing.  

Since I have seen such a diverse set of messages on this topic mainly on twitter, I am going to let that influence me just for this write-up!  So, each of the 10 descriptions below are 140 characters!  

1 of 10 – Senorita...
Perfect expression of unbridled ecstasy!  The music that plays over the clicking scissors and SPB's rendition of "Poomethai..." are magical.

2 of 10 – Madai Thirandhu
"Pudhu Raagam Padaipathale Naanum Iraivane" - a marvelous way to express the sentiment of a music director.  Godly score and divine singing.

3 of 10 – Sangeetha Jaathimullai
"VizhigaLil ThuLigaL Vadiyumo Adhu Suduvadhai ThAnga Mudiyumo" - tongue twisting magnificence.  Q: What reaches a crescendo?  A: Our senses.

4 of 10 – ILaya Nila…
Mohan owes his career to 3 people - Raja, SPB and SN Surendar.  The guitar, the tune and SPB's dulcet voice vie for our attention.  All win!

5 of 10 – Mandram Vandha
Everything is in sync - visuals, lyrics (the "thotta udan..." line is so perfect to describe Revathi's mindset) and SPB's vocal expressions.

6 of 10 – Kaala Kaalamaga
A song that still sounds fresh, 30 years after launch. Raja's instrumentals are stunningly modern and SPB's singing irresistibly energetic.

7 of 10 – Rumbumbum Aarambam…
The SPB touches - the "yeah" (2:03 min pt) or the way he sings "paerinbam" (2:25) - and Raja's foot tapping tune are like cherries and cake!

8 of 10 – Mannil Indha Kadhal…       
Listening to this breathless song can leave one speechless!  Gangai Amaran's lines are lovely ("Sutrivara seyyum vizhiyum sundara mozhigaL")

9 of 10 – Eduthu Naan Vidavaa…       
A quirky number that finds a place here because I wanted a song sung by SPB and Raja together.  The duo could give a hit even for Janakaraj!

10 of 10 – Kaatu Kuyilu
I am getting insufferably cutesy by posting a song on friendship at this time! Still, a little wistful hearing "Natpai kooda karpai pola..."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Movie and a Friendship



I recently hung a framed poster (pic above) of Rhythm above my DVD rack.  To give you some context, this is the only movie poster that I have in my house.  What made it sweeter was that the person who arranged for the poster was none other than the person that created the film, director Vasanth.  I had written about him as part of my Inspirations series, five years ago.  I had written about how I managed to meet him in 2002.  But I did not dwell much on why I wanted to meet him.  Those that have followed Vasanth’s career since his stunning debut Keladi Kanmani (1990) will know that rays of positivity have always shone through brightly in most of his movies.  Sacrifice, selflessness and righteousness are traits that have marked the behaviors of many of his lead characters.  I regard Rhythm as his finest work, the film that truly set him apart as a filmmaker in my mind.  These three traits that I mentioned came together in a wonderfully told story, in a beautifully shot film where the writing, the acting, the craft all were in perfect synchrony.  But there was something more to this film.

At the time of its release in 2000, I was 19 years old.  In the past 17 years, much like Iruvar, the same film has assumed multiple shapes and forms as I have viewed it from the perspective of a son and later as a husband and even as a father.  When I first watched the movie, the Arjun character held appeal for how he interacted with his parents.  Not for Vasanth the stereotypical ‘Amma Appa sentiment’ that belonged to the thamizh cinema of yore.  The casualness of the interactions and the understatement of sentiment combined to ensure that their scenes found their way to the indelible parts of my subconscious.  This might be hyperbole to you.  But trust me for I was there when it first happened!  As a son, I know that I am not as patient or tender with my parents as the Arjun character is.  But given the verisimilitude that informs Vasanth’s style of film making, it is only natural that I don’t discount my shortcomings by dismissing this as just a work of fiction.  Rather, this film serves as a feedback loop of sorts that keeps reinforcing in me the need to fulfill my filial responsibilities to the best of my abilities. 

The scene that made me want to meet Vasanth (1:37 – 3:13)

As I have eased into the roles of a husband and a father, I can see that whenever I revisit the scenes where Arjun interacts with Jyothika, Meena or her son (played by Aditya) there are little lines or gestures that I watch with admiration.  In the past few years, I have put in considerable amount of time and effort into refining myself as a person.  As I had written in my post on anger management, I genuinely seek to love my near and dear as thoughtfully and as gently as I can.  But in order to achieve the kind of complete satisfaction with how I am to others, I know that I need to cement the cracks in my character, be it getting a better handle on my temper or acting less impulsively in times of distress.  And, when I watch the Arjun character behave with decency and equanimity despite the trials and tribulations that his character goes through, that, for the lack of a better term, is inspiring in its own way.  The delicate touch of the scene where he tells his wife, “Bomb vechurkaange ma,” the maturity with which he deals with Meena’s equivocation, the cuteness of his scenes with Aditya (believe it or not, I address my son as “Sir” quite a bit, similar to the Arjun character!) are all things that have helped me crystallize my thoughts on the ‘ideal’ version of me.  The ‘best’ version of me is something that I am working towards with the acceptance that even if the goal is not reached, just the attempt to reach it would be rewarding enough for me and, hopefully, my loved ones.

Watch from 3:15 – 4:09, 6:06 – 7:20

In the fifteen years that I have known Vasanth, my family and I have been recipients of his friendship, his generosity of spirit and his thoughtfulness of gesture.  The ways in which he has touched my life are too many to count and some are too personal to recount.  But one incident is worth mentioning.  Last October, when I had gone to India following my Aunt’s untimely demise, I had a lengthy conversation with him the day before I left.  As I took his blessings before leaving, I said to him, “Sir, do visit Paati when you can.”  He smiled and assured me that he certainly would.  On the day of Diwali (by this time, I had returned to the US), he texted me saying that even though we wouldn’t celebrate the festival this year that he still wanted to wish me well.  In my response, I said, “Do visit Paati when time permits, Sir.  She will be feeling low.”  Pat came the response, “I already did, six hours ago.”  When I called my grandma, she spoke of how he spent time with her, offering solace and comforting words and asked her to prepare my Aunt’s favorite dish as a token of remembrance, as a way of reliving my grandma’s memories of my Aunt.  The thoughtfulness moved me and my family a lot, during a tough phase.  Of course, there have been plenty of happier memories too, but as the cliché goes, “A friend in need…”  

"Punnagaiye Vaazhkai!" (That was the original title of "Rhythm")

As I have interacted with him over the years, I have also come to immensely respect the stubbornness of a creator that is one of his dominant traits.  As a filmmaker that steadfastly refuses to toe the commercial line, he has been willing to bide his time to make his own brand of sensible cinema.  He is currently making a film titled, Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Penngalum, an anthology based on the works of acclaimed writers like Ashokamitran.  As a creator, he has displayed indefatigable grit to make mainstream cinema that appeals to the reader in him as well as the aesthete in him.  Not all his works may have become classics like Keladi Kanmani or Aasai or cult favorites like Satham Podaathay.  But he soldiers on doggedly, to make films that stand the test of time.  I am not going to slot Rhythm into any category.  Because it is an experience that I, over the years, have made my own.  Yes, I am delighted whenever I find fellow admirers of the film.  But truth to be told, contrary to how communal a movie going experience typically is, Rhythm has been an intensely inward looking, meditative experience.  Thank you, Vasanth Sir, for the film and for your friendship.  I value and cherish both, with gratitude.