Saturday, August 12, 2017

Autograph Memories

Note: For the scenes described below, I have pointers to the specific portions of the youtube video (of the full movie) just above the snapshots.  The youtube video is embedded at the bottom of the article.  Thank you, Anu Warrier, for introducing me to your style of movie essays - that's the format that I have adopted for this piece.

A bunch of friends are having a get-together at a restaurant.  They await the arrival of Divya, the lone girl in their group.  She walks in wearing a checked shirt, carrying a backpack, sporting an unfussy hairstyle, her hair kept in place by a black band.  Looking a little pensive, she apologizes for being tardy.  When her friend inquires, she responds by stating that she bumped into her former beau.  As he (wrongly) guesses the nature of the meeting, her face slowly turns red.  Unable to digest her friend’s comments, she stands up in the middle of the restaurant and creates a bit of a scene, slapping her friend.  Regaining composure, with her eyes welling up, she explains to him that the reason she could face her ex was because of the security that his friendship offered her.  This explanation, coming from a girl who had attempted suicide after being spurned by her boyfriend, says a lot that there is to be said about the ability of a genuine friendship to offer a sturdy pillar of support when the emotional foundation of a person is on shaky ground.  Sneha, the actress playing the role of Divya, handles this scene exquisitely.  Anger, sadness and strength all form part of the gamut of emotions she undergoes in this sequence.  She expresses and internalizes in equal measure – this balance is what makes her performance in Autograph the crown jewel of her career. 

Scene starts at the 2:03:40 min point

This ‘balance’ deserves elaboration especially because the creative brain behind this movie – writer and director Cheran – is not known for understatement.  Cheran’s movies invariably elicit polarizing opinions.  Some find them unbearably preachy but others find them sweetly old fashioned.  Irrespective of the camp one belongs to, it is hard to deny the strength of some of his characters.  Actors like Parthiban who can internalize effectively (Bharathi Kannamma) can serve as a counterpoint to the dramatism (sometimes loudness) of the scenes, making the characters lifelike and the sequences more realistic.  Never has this been illustrated better in Cheran’s oeuvre than in Sneha’s masterful performance here.  An actress blessed with large, expressive eyes, Sneha had the acting chops to make her emoting look effortless.  Rarely did she look awkward on screen because she seldom tried to oversell a moment.  But on the other hand, for tragic sequences, she used every facial muscle to bring the moment to life.  The scene where she realizes that her mother has passed away is a case in point.  Especially poignant is the way she cradles her mother, tearing up uncontrollably.  It is raw, powerful emotion erupting out of a face that looks like it stored each iota of sadness in every cell only for them to tear asunder.

Sequence begins at the 2:14:21 min point

Two other moments deserve mention because Sneha, at first glance, might appear to do very little.  But owing to the thoughtful writing and deft direction, she is resplendent.  The first of this is the brief scene outside the orphanage where she has decided to live, following the death of her mother.  Her friend Cheran is a little upset with her decision but understands and respects her choice, describing the inevitability of separations in a relationship.  We hear her voice (splendid voice work by Savitha) in the background as she talks affectionately, almost reverentially, about her friendship with him.  The casualness of Sneha’s body language is in perfect contrast to the heavy duty lines that we hear in the background.  As I mentioned earlier, you need a natural like her to make this kind of drama work.

2:19:36 min point -- 

The other moment is in the climax at the wedding hall.  In a small but lovely moment sans any dialogue, Sneha teases Cheran for removing his beard.  The impish smile is just about perfect given the comfort level that exists between them.  Again, this is an instance of a talented actor bringing a touch that helps make the character well-rounded. 

2:36:30 min point -- 

In the hero-dominated world of Tamil cinema, it is rare to find well-fleshed out characters for women.  But upon closer inspection, the true torchbearers of sensible cinema have always invested their female leads with agency.  Seasoned veterans like Balachander, Mahendran, Mani Ratnam and Vasanth to the latest generation of filmmakers like Karthik Subburaj (Anjali and Pooja Devariya in Iraivi) and Seenu Ramasamy (Tamanna in Dharmadurai) may have had markedly different filmmaking styles.  But the one common aspect of these perspicacious creators is their vision to project their women through the lens of feminism and not just through the male gaze which can be sometimes be covered with the blinders of chauvinism and sexism.  It is when we see roles such as Sneha's in Autograph that we see the value of this thoughtfulness.  Sincere thanks to Cheran and to Sneha for giving me such an abiding memory of a well-etched character in an unforgettable movie. 


Zola said...

Ram Murali : "She seldom tried to oversell a moment" Loved this line. Ive not seen this movie but it attracted a lot of people to the theatres who d not seen a movie in ages because "its different". The angle about looking at female characters was an astute observation but personally I find the word 'feminism' too in your face. Reminds me too much of my "favourite" director KB and his overintelligent portrayal of women.

Oh and that 'Natpukkaga' title card was a great touch. I thought it was part of the movie !!

Venkatesh said...

I'd initially thought the film was April Maathathil. Not seen Autograph but it was an unexpected hit at the BO!

Coming to KB, it may not be an overstatement to say that he made fauxminist films. And, I think the same can be said of Vasanth's films too. I find the women characters of Mahendran, BM and Mani more realistic and grounded.

Btw, it's good to see an old-fashioned Tamil script. :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent write-up. I totally enjoyed watching this movie. As you mentioned, the characters have been etched so well. Sneha does good justice to the role. I'm so glad the movie's climax is not a stereotype. We need films like these to celebrate friendship. Kudos to Cheran for his vision. Great pick for the week Ram. Thank you for the autograph memories. Totally enjoyed it.

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thank you for your usual, prompt and thoughtful comment. Special thanks for recognizing the card @ the end. I was trying to be 'clever' by having an autograph at the end of a piece on "Autograph" :)

Venkatesh - "fauxminist" - I think I know exactly what you mean by that in the context of KB's films. Curious to hear why you thought of Vasanth's characters similarly? Could you elaborate?

Anonymous - nandri :) yes, the climax was very nicely executed!

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - by the way, it was Nandu that came up with the idea of the "autograph" at the end. So, I must give her full credit for that idea! :)

Venkatesh said...

Ram: Sometime back, a reader left the following comment on BR's blog:

" … But a filmmaker like Vasanth has got it worse … In his movies the lady who ends up with the hero is always a a virgin, even if she was married before .. meena in Rhythm becomes a widow even before spending a night with ramesh arvind . But not the case with Arjun and Jo !! And same with Padmapriya in Satham Podathey .. The heroines previous marriage if any never consummated !"

I haven't seen his earlier films (the pre-Aasai ones), but I find Satham Podaathey to be a terrible film. Add to it the "cameo" by Suhasini. Btw, I know your love for Vasanth. ;)

Ram Murali said...

Venkatesh - thank you for sharing your views and that comment on BR's blog. I do sometimes feel though, to use a phrase used by BR in the context of K Balachander, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, the things that you stated about Rhythm and SP around the virginity of the heroine are true. But there is a sense of decency and maturity in the films that I feel shouldn't be obscured by this virginity observation.

"I haven't seen his earlier films" --> Incidentally, in Keladi Kanmani, an old Radhika is unmarried as she reunites with the widower SPB :) But that, to me, isn't reason enough to discount the merits of KK, which I think is a beautifully told love story.

I am not surprised that you didn't like Satham Podaathey. Quite a few of my friends didn't like the second half at all. (For the record, I liked it quite a bit; I thought that it was a good mix of domestic drama and atmospheric thriler.)

Re: the cameo by Suhasini, isn't it amazing that she can grate even in a 3-min scene. (For the record, I think she is a terrible actress!)

Ram Murali said...

"And same with Padmapriya in Satham Podathey .."
--> Seeing this comment, I recollected the issue with the Nithin Sathya character. And I must confess, I laughed out loud thinking of Counds' hilarious joke in that cricket match comedy with Senthil! (I *really* hope you have seen that one and that I don't have to post it here!!)

Zola said...

Ah the Better Half knows Best ! Please do pass on my kudos to her

Venkatesh said...

Ram, so you still read BR (and the comments section)?

As for "throwing the baby out with the bathwater", people refuse to show even the slightest of mercy when it comes to somebody like Shankar. :)

Talking about KB's assistants, I'm more fond of Suresh Krishna, who despite making an impressive debut with Sathya made pathetic films (in terms of craft) later on. Vasanth is easily the best when it comes to craft.

The problem with Suhasini's character in SP is that when the couple meets her, she openly asks Nithin Sathya: "Neenga ellam enna dhairiyathula sir kalyanam panneenga". This is just horrible writing.

Ram Murali said...

Venkatesh, I do agree that the Suhasini scene wasn't well written.

Re: Suresh Krissna, time kedaicha do listen to the snippets from my audio interview with him from last year:

I do read BR's blog and the comments for the topics / movies that interest me. I esp. liked his interview with TMK. I had tweeted about it. But of course, I will never go back to commenting on the blog. To quote Kamal from Aalavandhan, "Too many bad memories!"

Venkatesh said...

Ram, thanks for the link. His career took a turn with Annamalai. I don't know if you're aware of this or not - the film was to be originally directed by Vasanth. However, he made "different" films like Aahaa and Sangamam. I wish he hadn't accepted Gajendra though. :)

Also found another interview (with Anu Hasan). What an amazing lady she is!

Ram Murali said...

Venkatesh - Gajendra-ke aluthunda epdi? :) What about "Ilaignan?" That was his nadir, I thought.

Re: the interview with Anu Hasan, yes, that was very memorable for me. She is a fantastic interview subject, lively, respectful and totally engaged.

Ram Murali said...

I don't know if you're aware of this or not - the film was to be originally directed by Vasanth.

--> Yes, I know. Funnily enough, I have heard both Vasanth and SK's versions of the story. Thankfully, the details match...mostly :)

Zola said...

"I'll always be your son...but I'd never work for you...I have bad memories" (Godfather Part III)

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - as far as appropriate, situational quotes go, it's hard to beat yours from The Godfather :)

Venkatesh said...

Is Ilaignan that bad?

Ram Murali said...

Watch it at your own risk. Pa Vijay as hero and Namitha as villi - need I say more? :)

Venkatesh said...

Oh gawd! Enna sir solreenga? Is her role something like Neelambari?

Ram Murali said...

Aamam, "like Neelambari" but on a scale of 1 to Ramya Krishnan, Namitha's performance (and the writing itself, by Karunanidhi no less) was probably -100!

Zola said...

"isn't it amazing that she can grate even in a 3-min scene."

Ram ......Tell me .....Tell me....

WHAT grates on you more ?

Her teeth koanichufying or the left portion of the lip koanichufying ? :):)

Venkatesh said...

Rolea vidundga aana adhukku vera aalae kedakalaya? I think SK might have accepted the offer because our filmmakers consider it a privilege to direct a MK script. I still feel Gajendra is his worst effort. If not for Narasimha, it would've become the butt of many Vijayakanth jokes!

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker: "WHAT grates on you more ?" - I will tell you, I will tell you. It is the opposite of Sneha's acting style; it is her tendency to oversell every moment. Remember the scene from "Sindhu Bhairavi" where she is speechless, sitting next to her biological mother. The way she says, "Naan shock-la iruken" and helpfully adds, "pleasant shock" waving her arms. That's an example of her acting 'style,' one which I can't stand.

Venkatesh -- I have a feeling that you are depriving yourself of something special by not watching Ilaignan and concluding that Gajendra is his worst effort. I like SK a lot as a person so, I feel bad to make fun of Ilaignan. But the truth is, it is a travesty. He should have never agreed to collaborate on this, knowing the passe style of MK's alliterations (there are some lame 'amma' punchlines in this movie) and the cast (which I don't think he selected; he has better taste!)

Zola said...

Ha Ha Ram ! You have a shot for every delivery :):)