LOST ACTION HERO
The new Ajith starrer flounders about, trying to make a masala movie out of material more suited to a character-driven drama.
JULY 28, 2007 – ITâS NOT EVERYDAY that a masala movie with an action-star hero leaves you with happy-faced memories of your classrooms from childhood, but here I was after Kireedam, filled with fond flashbacks about being in the fifth standard. This unexpected bolt of nostalgia was triggered by leading lady Trisha (playing Divya), who, in order to incapacitate the hero Shaktiâs (Ajith) motorbike, employs the kind of stainless-steel razor blade that was once used as much by adults â seeking the smoothest of skin in an age where the words âdisposableâ? and âshaving productsâ? hadnât quite been introduced to one another â as by children striving for the perfect pencil point that mere sharpeners could never provide. Too many turns in the sharpener and the pencil point would snap like a brittle twig; too few and the graphite rod would remain stubbornly blunt â and thatâs where the razor blade would come in.
With the laser-sharp concentration that could draw hearty nods of approval from South African cutters shaping amorphous chunks of rock into diamonds, weâd sit there â one hand rotating the pencil at an incline, its tip resting against the desk, and the other hand wielding the razor blade in a filing motion that would leave behind the tiniest mound of shiny-black grains. That Trisha extracted this razor blade from a Natraj geometry box â the one with the familiar maroon and blue cover, and with an illustration of the eponymous deity in his dancing pose, as if in reassurance that the fluidity of His movements would translate to the fluidity with which weâd manoeuvre the compass and the divider â further aided this flashback, which, by now, Iâm fairly sure has at least some of you wondering whether the many, many inane movies that a critic is forced to endure over the course of a career results in a gradual erosion of brain cells, which might explain why Iâm babbling about razor blades and geometry boxes when I should be talking about the movie at hand.
But what does one do when the movie at hand doesnât offer much else to remember it by? Unless, of course, you want to consider the decision to transform a story about dashed dreams into a masala entertainer â with one-versus-many fights, with dream songs (tuned quite nicely by GV Prakash), with an annoying romantic track that tries way too hard to be âcuteâ? â calculated to please everyone (and, inevitably, ending up pleasing no one in particular). The only way Kireedam could have possibly worked is if it had been made into something like Mahanadhi. This is a similar account of a good manâs struggle to sidestep the below-the-belt punches that fate keeps throwing at him â a sentiment voiced by the battered Shakti as he cries out, âEn vaazhkaiyile ellaame ennai meeri nadanthittirukku.â? But then no one, today, wants to spend hard-earned money on a downer where the theatres would find it mandatory to throw in a couple of handkerchieves along with each ticket.
At least, thatâs what filmmakers like to believe, and thatâs why Kireedam begins with an action sequence where a number of convicts whoâve escaped from prison surround the lone cop (Shakti, naturally) whoâs on their tail, and instead of pouncing on him when he stops to tie his shoelaces, they wait till he finishes â almost as if complying with an unspoken code of conduct during combat, that thou shalt not take on a defenseless enemy. (Or perhaps, thou shalt pay the Tamil Film Hero the respect He is due.) However, once the bad guys are overpowered, we get to one of first-time director Vijayâs nicer touches (though this may also be an element from the original, a Malayalam movie of the same name) â that all of this has been dreamed up by an upright policeman (a dependably solid Rajkiran, who plays Shaktiâs father, and whoâs cast opposite Saranya; the coupleâs intensity and chemistry from Thavamai Thavamirundhu carry over here, helping their characters attain more heft than youâd otherwise expect from the script). Itâs saying something about the culture we live in today that even the flights of fancy of a simple man, who drives a moped to work, are coloured by masala moments. And that, probably, is the whole point of masala cinema, a window to a dream world happily divorced from reality.
This wouldnât be a problem if Kireedam were indeed just another masala movie â probably starring Vijay, who makes no bones about not wanting depth in his entertainers. And Vijay, the director, does show signs of at least trying to think his way through a genre of filmmaking thatâs all too often tossed off in our faces without much thought â especially with the song sequences. Thereâs a longish scene where Shakti and Divya and their respective families go to a cinema hall (to watch a Rajini movie, what else?), and as they take their seats, Shakti and Divya are right beside each other. Then Divyaâs mother, whoâs sitting on the other side, complains that the man in front is too tall and she swaps seats with Divya. Soon, Divyaâs father is asked to duck by the man behind him, so he exchanges places with Shakti. On and on this goes, till Shakti and Divya are practically at opposite ends of the row â and thatâs when she launches into a dream song that goes, Akkam pakkam yaarum illaa boologam vendum. The words express exactly what she desires at that instant, a world with no one else coming between them. What an unexpected pleasure, a song situation that actually takes off from the preceding setup, the way it should be done but very rarely is!
But the director is less surefooted with the more overarching aspects of the story. Itâs an enormous credit to Ajith that heâs undertaken this role â given the expectations of his legions of fans that he will live up to the heroism inherent in an âUltimate Star,â? and given the expectations from the title that this film will be a glittering kireedam for our thala. And Ajith does expend every ounce of his sincerity in delineating this hapless hero â but heâs not helped by a screenplay that simply does not detail Shaktiâs emotional graph with any level of conviction. In deference to his fatherâs wishes, Shakti tries to join the police, but a chance encounter with a gang of rowdies throws up complications that keep thwarting his efforts â and a lot of the time, weâre asked to take his journey as a given. Weâre never clear, for instance, why he goes from being a Nayakan-like savior of the oppressed masses â they hoist him on their shoulders and cheer â to someone that the very same masses contemptuously dismiss as a ârowdy.â?
As his girlfriend, Trisha has one very funny bit while seated beside him, when a girl passing by eyes Shakti with half a hope, and Trisha wordlessly commands this girl to keep walking or else. But almost everywhere else, her scenes with Ajith are a major distraction, playing out at an uncomfortably lighter pitch when the film is trying to hit much heavier notes. (Vivek sticks out for the same reason, though heâs become so dependable a comedian, even his not-very-amusing shtick begins to crack you up.) I know, I know, these are what weâve learned to live with as âcommercial compromises,â? but the time wasted on these supposedly crowd-pleasing moments could have been devoted to Shaktiâs run-ins with the gangsters, with the townspeople around him, with his fiancÃ©e and his future in-laws, and with himself (considering the choices heâs faced with). But again, who, today, would want to watch that movie, one that tailored its style to the story instead of forcing the story to fit its style?
Copyright Â©2007 Baradwaj Rangan