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 clich√© 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.  


Zola said...

Ram Murali :

Reading this article has also been a kind of meditative experience.

Believe it or not I’ve not seen a single Vasanth movie end to end but I’ve seen interviews with him end to end – including his playful demeanour with younger members of his unit – he was once pulling the leg of one heroine (forget her name) and her petulant response in a way exposed another aspect of his character i.e the freedom with which his unit interacts with him.

Simply loved this line “his film serves as a feedback loop of sorts that keeps reinforcing in me the need to fulfill my filial responsibilities”

Gels with what you said later on in the article on Rhythm being an intensely inward looking, meditative experience

If the stubbornness of a creator is one of his dominant traits, probably the stubbornness with which you’ve stood by the film inspite of several opinions expressed to the contrary in your own blog (by fellow bloggers) and beyond is also worthy of mention.
You’re absolutely right in stating that Vasanth charted his own course. Thanks to his brand of movie making, of one thing I’m certain and that is we will never see the Anju of Keladi Kanmani again.

And that’s a tragedy…….

Zola said...

Just remembered now - the heroine's name is Padmapriya

Anu Warrier said...

The only film I've seen from Vasanth's oeuvre is Keladi Kanmani, and I must confess I'd not paid any attention to the director. I really liked the film.

Apropos your efforts to change into a better person: I'm utterly conscious that I'm expected to cheer on your efforts. Or that I should. I'm afraid that my first - and very strong - reaction to these posts on 'being a better person' is to go away quietly and try not to barf! [And that says more about me than it does about you.]

I will try and explain where I'm coming from - the quest for perfection, of goodness even, is all very well until you have to live with it. It's virtually impossible to live with a perfect human being (which explains my visceral hatred of Lord Rama). Also, you're [general 'you'] in danger of turning into a smug, sanctimonious, stuffed shirt whose only goal in life is to become 'good'.

Believe me, it's no fun to share a life with such a person. Either you have to become one yourself (which sucks all the joy out of life) or you are always feeling guilty at not being quite as perfect yourself, and imagining the pained expression on the Perfect One's [TM} face when s/he notices your not-so-perfect self that you want to sign up for the next edition of Suicide Squad. Either case, you're toast. :)

In the meantime, I think I'll pull my tarnished halo from storage, polish it up, and send it to you. It's been feeling rather lonely and unused in my house. :)

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thanks for your comments. Yes, you should check out some of his films. Very realistic, very subtle and the best part is the gentle, unforced humor that marks many of the conversations in his films.

Anu - I think you will like Rhythm if you liked the style of film making in Keladi Kanmani. Rhythm is even more refined. It's available on youtube; check it out if time permits.

Regarding the quest to become a better person and all that idealistic stuff that I wrote about, I have a different opinion. I don't think that a quest to become better is always the same thing as being stiff and boringly perfectionist. I think that elements of fun are not mutually exclusive with being kinder, gentler, less angry, less impulsive, etc. The truth is, I genuinely feel bad whenever my words or actions hurt my loved ones. As long as I don't impose my beliefs on others and behave without the kind of 'smugness' that you fear this quest might turn people into, I think it gives me a sense of fulfillment. And truth to be told, I see people enjoying their interactions with me more when I am not edgy or impulsive and instead, a little calmer and more centered. And that's something that I feel I owe to people that make me feel loved and cared for.

Anu Warrier said...

Ram, it wasn't aimed at you personally, though my comment may have come across that way. Besides, it is your life to live and who am I to judge you for the way you choose to live it? In any case, trying to be a better human being is not a bad thing in and of itself. We all try to be the best people that we can be, or attempt to.

You're probably a very nice human being. Do continue to be so. I'm rather cynical, and world-weary at this point; I left that innocence behind a long time ago. :)

Ram Murali said...

Anu - of course. I didn't take any offense or think that it was aimed at me personally. I was just stating my point of view on this topic of self improvement which is something that I hold very close to my heart. Thanks, once again, for sharing your views.

And, do check out Rhythm if and when you find time. You might like it enough to do one of your patented analyses :)

Zola said...

Hey Anu :

Dont become too weary and leave your fans in the lurch.... :)

Zola said...

Ram Murali : just saw the new poster you've posted now. Looks good !

Rahini David said...

Ha ha. I was thinking something similar to what Anu said too.

Ram: It does seem cruel that merely trying to be better than you are now annoys the hell out of an average person but this is REALLY what most people are thinking (if not all). Maybe I will write at length about why we feel that way about people who are just trying their level best to be nicer, warmer and as thoughtful as they can be.

Anu: When I say 'average person', I certainly don't mean that YOU are average. Certainly not in the way your thoughts are expressed :D

Ram Murali said...

Rahini - thank you for your comment. It does not seem "cruel" at all because it's coming from well-wishers like you and Anu, not someone anonymous who is just trying to offer a counterpoint for the sake of being provocative. I do understand and respect Anu's point of view. And of course, I will look forward to your blog post as well should you choose to write about this elaborately.

But the truth is, I sincerely believe in the need for constant introspection and self-improvement. And, the more I write about it, the more I can flesh my thoughts out (as opposite to fleshing my thoughts out and then writing about it). As I had mentioned in my interview with Anu Hasan, I find writing as a very important meditative experience. And since I do spend considerable time of things such as yoga and reading and reflecting on non-fiction books, I feel the need to share - through my writings - what I learn and for what I yearn to be. (The latter is what I mentioned in the context of "Rhythm.") And as I said earlier, when I get differing thoughts and reactions from people like you and Anu who express things thoughtfully, I do want to listen to that as well :) So, please do write your blog post when time permits! I will look forward to reading it!

Ram Murali said...

Sorry for a couple of typos in my previous comment.
Does anyone know if I can edit comments without deleting them and re posting? Blogger seems to only provide "delete" and "spam" as options for comments without an option to just edit.

I meant, "I find writing TO BE a very important meditative experience."

"...considerable time ON things such as yoga..."