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!  

  • ·         “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!

  • ·         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:

  • ·         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.


Anonymous said...

This is the first time I am reading a blog on train sequences and the title is so apt. This blog not only demonstrates your writing finesse but also sheds light on how much you know about Tamil cinema. The breadth of knowledge that you have is so praiseworthy. I really marvel how you have addressed train sequences into different categories like comedy, romance, songs, climax etc. Very well done. Every time I think that this is your best, the next one gets even better. Kudos!!!!!

Venkatesh said...

Interesting post. Agni has two terrific scenes - when Prabhu confronts Karthik, and later when he saves the latter's sister from the villain's henchmen.

Coming to comedy, it's a tie between Balaiyaa and Vaidvelu's "samooga sevai na enakku romba pudikkum". :)

As for climactic sequences, my pick would be Kaathal Kottai!

Ram Murali said...

Anonymous - thank you for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the write-up.

Venkatesh - thanks for commenting. I laughed out loud at the "samooga sevai" line. I also loved the start of that scene. As the Thatha walks towards the train, Vadivelu would ask, "Ena Thatha yaera mudiyaliya?!" and the Thatha would respond (while still on the platform), "Naan innum yaerave illaye pa!"

Kadhal Koattai had tremendous dramatic impact but to me, Thevar Magan packed a greater emotional punch.

Agni - yes, exciting scenes, no doubt.

I also totally forgot about Kizhakke Pogum Rayil. But I am not really a fan of that movie.

Zola said...

Ram Murali : That was an amazing "train" of thought :):)

If you were a film maker I would say that you traverse genres with extreme agility.

And though there were lots of masala moments in this article there was a lot of art meets mart too.

Before anything else, I must say that train sequence in Anniyan has tremendous repeat value. My son introduced me to it and whenever its on some channel the family puts everything aside to watch it. Absolutely agree, it tops the TM sequence.

And Thanks so much fro mentioning Nizhal Nijamaagiradhu. Its up there among my KB-Kamal collaborations. I think its the first movie where his Bharatanatyam skills are showcased albeit ina very small sequence but for my money thats probably one of his best. He is so lithe i.e before he acquired all that beefcake going into Hindi movies and he does it with being overtly conscious like his other Bharatnatyam sequences.

That part where he Sumithra reads a letter written by Kamal an sees the spaces left blank to be filled in by her scoldings was a great touch - though thats more a credit to the writer I think.

You have a great knack of discovering new angles or lenses to look at Tamil cinema.

Anonymous said it beautifully in just one line and not much I can add to that.

Highly highly entertaining read !

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thank you for the detailed comment.
Yes, the kamal - sumithra portions of nizhal nijamagiradhu were easily the highlight of that movie. Kamal's casual flicking of his fingers after he says, "Mannikanum...idhu en aacharam" was so stylish.

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