Friday, May 18, 2018

Eight Memories of Eighties Thamizh Cinema

Hold on a second.  Let me wipe the sheepish grin from my face.  I am quite amused with myself for choosing this topic.  The reason is that I was born in June 1981.  I have no right to be au fait with the 80s cinema to the extent that I am.  But – okay, stop judging me! – I started watching thamizh movies in the theater when I was less than 7 years old!  Plus, there were enough movies from the 80s that I caught later on video or TV that I feel like these films were an integral part of my formative years even more than they probably were!  In this piece, I am not putting on an analytical hat as much as donning a nostalgic cap.  I hope that at least some of these tropes and cliches bring a smile to your face, as you take a trip down your own memory avenues!

Note: I have embedded the videos such that clicking on play will take you to the appropriate place in the video. (Sincere thanks to all the youtube video owners.)

Begin with a bang – The 80s Titles
Much before Mani Ratnam decided that the titles would offer be artfully connected to the subject – a case in point is Revathi’s photos forming the backdrop of the titles in Mouna Raagam- loud flashy psychedelic colors were part and parcel of the title cards.  I suppose there were graphics much before Shankar decided to collaborate with computer scientists!

Exhibit 1: The titles of Makkal En Pakkam

Mike Mohan and Song Suresh – The singing heroes
Make no mistake - they definitely had some acting talent.  Especially Suresh – he had a voice that was good enough to later dub for Nagarjuna (Shiva, Ratchagan) and Ajith (Aasai) but think of these two heroes, what come to mind instantly are their lilting romantic blockbuster songs set to tune by The King and sung by Mr. Dulcet Balasubramaniam!  
PS: No, Suresh was not called Song Suresh the way Mohan had the ‘Mike’ prefix.  That was just my goofiness taking over!

Exhibit 2: Kootathile Kovil Puraa… from Idhaya Kovil

Thamil Vaalga – Radha, Ambika, Nadhiya, et al. 
I suppose Tamil cinema has always been flooded with heroines from outside the state.  Padmini, Savitri, Saroja Devi were all yesteryear heroines but they all dubbed in their own voice.  It was in the 80s with actresses like Radha, Ambika and Nadhiya was the voice artiste coming into prominence.  But to their credit, they all lip synced perfectly.  They all essayed a variety of roles from those of substance to being eye candy.  (In my mind, Saritha was the best non-Tamil speaking actress of this generation.  She dubbed for herself too.)  Nadhiya shot into prominence with her memorable role in Poove Poochoodava and had a short but spectacular run from the mid to late 80s. 

Exhibit 3: Chinna Kuyil Paadum…

 Silk and her ilk – the item numbers
What thamizh cinema did to Silk Smitha was a tragedy.  A travesty.  She was pretty, and could certainly act – remember her role as Thyagarajan’s wife in AlaigaL Oivathillai?  Yet she was made to prance around in skimpy clothing and dance to inane but super hit numbers like “Nethu rathiri yamma” (where Kamal was the dancer-in-crime).  Supposedly the distributors used to insist on a song featuring her even in the films with top actors.  Other ‘glamour girls’ followed in her footsteps but I don’t know if anyone made it as big as she did. (Of course, her real-life suicide was a tragic epilogue to her rags-to-riches-to-rags story.)

There were very few truly melodious numbers picturized on her, the song below being a striking exception. 

Exhibit 4: Poove…Ilaya Poove…     

No laughing matter – The Comedy Tracks
Comedians may come and comedians may go but Counder will go on forever!  It is a testament to the evergreen nature of his comedy sequences that even present day youngsters are familiar with most of his famous punchlines.  Though it was Karagattakaran that catapulted him to fame, there were several films in the 80s that had hilarious comedy ‘tracks’ (standalone sequences with a tenuous link to the main story).  My favorite, by a mile, is Vaidehi Kaathirundhal.

Exhibit 5: The mantel comedy

Don, men and their den
Henchmen got such a raw deal in thamizh cinema in the 80s!  The Peters, Davids and Kaalis were usually tasked with spouting the two most obedient words ever- “Yes Boss.”  What’s worse, they probably were sweating profusely while doing this.  They had to, in sweltering heat, wear figure-hugging jackets.  They had vision problems too – I would too if I had to sport sunglasses in dark dungeons.

Exhibit 6: The 'thagudu thagudu' scene in Kaaki Sattai

Judiciatree – The Panchayat Scene
Did you think that Vijayakumar was the first nattamai in thamizh cinema?!  Nope.  Courtesy of Bharathiraja and his protégés, there were many judiciary matters resolved under humungous trees!

Exhibit 7: The intermission point of Mundhanai Mudichu

Photo finish – The post-climax group photo
The writers and directors wanted to have the carrot halwa and eat it too.  They would kill off a character or write an intense, dramatic climax scene.  Yet they wanted the audiences to leave the theater without a heavy feeling lest the masala quotient be diminished.  So, what did they do?  They would tack on a family photo scene where a character would crack a joke and just to offer a cue to the audience, the others in the scene would start laughing. 


Exhibit 8: The final scene of Moondru Mugam           

Sunday, May 13, 2018

C'est la vie

It was the longest thank you.
“Be choosy about choosing and you will choose well.”  These were the words of author Sheena Iyengar, above her autograph.  After reading her magnificent creation in 2010, “The Art of Choosing” I was so moved and, I dare say, so inspired that I felt compelled to thank her in person.  “Thank you” - it takes less than two seconds to utter; it took me 45 minutes!  I hesitated to request her autograph because she was visually impaired.  She asked me if I would like her autograph.  I wish she could have seen me smile.

It wasn’t always like this.
It used to bother me when one piece of potato in my curry wasn’t properly fried.  It used to irk me that my best friend hated my favorite actress.  Once, when in my teens, I flung the remote control on the wall when India lost a cricket game.  I had non-intestinal digestion issues – I could not stomach the fact that my teacher bought another student a watch for his birthday!  Yes, I was a pugnacious brat.  But as I dug deeper, I started to realize, courtesy of Professor Iyengar, that I was clearly not being choosy about the things that could make me a temporary insomniac.

It was unexpected. 
As I started identifying the things related to my core values or my identity, two things started to happen, one good and one not so.  I became relaxed around the choices, or lack thereof, around everything outside that nucleus.  Suddenly there seemed more to enjoy in life, more to take in my stride.  In short, I gradually felt liberated from many of my obsessions.  But when it came to those things – friendships, emotional generosity, even writing, to name a few - that I continue to hold very dear to me, I started being more protective.  Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing but when you over communicate around your obsessions, you cannot always expect people to think, “It is only four to five things that he is protective about.  Let me stay out of it.”  Instead, I found that there were enough people to pounce on my vulnerabilities.  Why?  It might have seemed harmless fun, a way to mask their insecurities or an opportunity to vent out pent up emotions stemming from a perceived inadequacy.  The reason doesn't matter at all.  Scratch that.  It does matter when you bear the brunt from people whom you did not expect to behave a certain way, where moving away even emotionally is difficult.  That is when it hurt.  Deeply and abidingly.

It happened once…twice…now, I have lost count.
Thanks to close to a decade of meditation, literally and otherwise, I have largely curbed my temper and impulsiveness.  But I quickly realized that when you rid yourself off anger, you have to find other ways to express.  Where I used to flip out, I now try to reason out.  But I know that it does not work all the time.  With a couple of people that I have gradually distanced myself from in the recent past, it was clear that my efforts to communicate my needs fell on ears that weren’t deaf as much as purposely stuffed with cotton to mute everything that I was stating.  The longer the rope I gave, the more nebulous the person at the other end appeared.  Beyond a point, I didn’t want to keep track of the number of instances where these people dismissed, mocked or, worse, attacked passions of mine.  But as much as that caused searing pain, it opened my eyes to the true value of people that love you for who you are and wish the best for you.  These are also the people that know how to retain levity and laughs in life without crossing just a handful of boundaries that I have drawn for myself. 

It was hidden in plain sight.
As I ruminate on Dr. Iyengar’s words, being “choosy” extends to people as well.  Letting one’s guard down in front of all and sundry is a recipe for disaster.  As some sagacious soul once said, life is the opposite of school.  You don’t learn and then take tests.   Life gives you the exams and then teaches you the lessons.  Still, I wish I could have minimized my hurt somehow.  But…c’est la vie.