Bullet-point Report: “Aaranya Kaandam”

Posted on June 11, 2011

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  • With most mainstream films, especially in Tamil, you know some fifteen minutes in if they’re working for you (or not). These are the films made expressly with you in mind, thinking that they know what you want, the pandering productions. But there are a few that leave you hanging until almost the end – “Hmmm… I’m really enjoying this… But where is it going?… Am I really liking it (as an organic whole) or is it just the laughs giving me a high? – and then, gradually, things begin to cohere and reshape your entire thus-far experience, and you slap your forehead and smile and say wow! This is one of those films.
  • The film began to belie my this-is-what’s-it’s-going-to-be-like expectations right from the opening credits. Seeing the trailer, with its non-stop use of sound and with its bustling busy-ness, I looked forward to a highly charged credits sequence, one that signalled its pop-culture-pastiche intentions with unabashed pride, with psychedelic colours and wacka-chaka music. But the names appeared very simply, and very silently. There was no sound at all.
  • But elsewhere, Yuvan Shankar Raja unleashes a background score I didn’t frankly know he was capable of, an eccentric score that’s perfectly in sync with the film’s eccentric characters, what you’d expect to hear in the soundtrack if Jean-Pierre Jeunet made one of his soaked-in-whimsy movies in Tamil. (I suspect, though, that the director had a great deal to do with getting exactly the score he wanted. It’s that whole thing we talked about earlier, about “collaborative creativity.”) I mean, there’s an out-of-nowhere burst from Four Seasons at one point, for crying out loud!
  • The heroine did not work for me at all. Her voice. Her walk. Her smile. That puff-sleeved blouse. There was a tweeness to everything about her that took me right out of the character she was playing, and I couldn’t help thinking – especially given what she turns out to be – that this role needed someone with more presence.
  • Speaking of whom, is that the first scene of a Tamil-film heroine in a bra putting on a blouse since Sujatha in Aval Oru Thodarkadhai? Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Romba mukkiyam! But hey, this is what pop-minutiae is comprised of, these nuggets of nothingness.
  • Her first scene with Jackie is a gem. She comes out of the bathroom. He’s at the other end of the room, swatting away imaginary flies and inspecting his face in a mirror, a louche lion (fond of baring his fangs), as the Tamil version of Koi yahaan aha naache naache leaks in from the outside, followed by Tholin mele baaram ille. He crosses the room and throws her on the bed, and the camera begins to circle the surroundings, stopping at a dirty mirror opposite them, in which we see that he’s on top of her. A grunt. The camera is back at their side. He can’t get it up. He slaps her. And then, she utters what is surely one of the greatest first-lines-of-a-movie of all time: Ungalaala mudiyalenna enna yen adikkareenga? And instantly, the tone, the pitch, the colour of what’s to follow is set.
  • The following discussion – outside, amongst Jackie’s underlings – about aunty-baiting is another gem, and a nod to the dialogue rhythms of Tarantino (like that other, superb story about Gajendran and Gajapathy and the woman with the missing thumb, the very definition of “pulp fiction,” lurid and expansively literary and also wholly likely). I suppose there are those who’ll say that the director, here, has done nothing more than transpose his Hollywood-DVD education (along with stray plotlines from the likes of Yojimbo, and maybe a boxed-inside-a-TV shot from Sirk) to a Tamil-saakkadai milieu, and therefore there’s no real voice that’s visible, just the feeling of being in the presence of a master mimic. But I think there is a voice, even if I haven’t quite yet cottoned on to what that voice is.
  • Though it’s certainly a (refreshingly) foul-mouthed voice: “Anniyaa?” “Ille, s*nni.” Why this pretense, by the censors, that outside the theatres we all speak with the softness of sages? People swear, you know – kids, adults, men, women, everyone! Votha! (Not that I’d say that myself. I prefer the more elegant — okay, okay, the more Peter-ish — “fuck.”)
  • There’s a tendency to (cleverly) disorient the audience by showing an event and then showing how that event came to be. Pasupathy is on a bike. But how did he get that bike? Because – as we see a few frames later – he took a shovel and aimed it at the torso of a poor man riding towards him and then stole the bike.
  • Vettrimaran, please note: This is how you film a cockfight. With mood. And with fades to black. We don’t want realism and distractingly done graphics. We just want the experience to not feel fake, and – if we’re lucky – to not yank us out of the tension of the scene.
  • I cannot recall the last term I heard the word dhaddhi in a film. It’s quite a common word. Why don’t we hear it more often?
  • What a great time for anyone who knows that the eighties was the greatest decade ever – Unnai azhaithathu kann from Thaai Veedu, Ponmeni uruguthey from Moondram Pirai, Sandhana kaatre from Thanikaatu Raja, Kaattu vazhi pora penne from Malaiyoor Mambattiyan, Vaa vaa pakkam vaa from Thanga Magan. But no newer songs, not one?
  • There were portions that struck me as very gimmicky – the videogame screen with the lovers escaping the way Subbu and Sappai want to, for one. And then the oil-massage stretch with a naked Jackie. The quirk-factor, in these portions, wasn’t organic but overdetermined. “Look ma, how weird and wonderfully oddball I can be!”
  • But mostly otherwise, what vividly eccentric characters and situations! All of them! Jackie trying to learn that “Enakku elaneer pidikkum” is, in English, “I love tender coconut…” Jackie giving Ravi Krishna a couple of notes so that the latter can show his mistress a good time, and then yanking back a note… Ravi Krishna fearing that his life is about to end and then discovering that it’s just a couple of cans of water… Pasupathy running and thinking and thinking and running, reflecting on his plight and forming a course of action and slyly spoon-feeding the audience at the same time… The josiyar who you think will end up with a couple of bullets in his breast…
  • If every character had been so eccentric, so colourful, we would be left with a live-action cartoon with no sense of danger to anyone. That’s why Pasupathy is the straight guy, as normal as a film like this will allow someone to be. And that is why there had to be a normal underpinning as well, that of small creatures being devoured by bigger creatures, that of selfish survival, the dharma espoused at the film’s opening.
  • Kodukapuli’s father is one of the great losers in the cinema – his lines are often so funny that you’re laughing with him, and also at him. And yet, we don’t lose sight of the undefined affection between father and exasperated son – the care with which the son bathes and dresses the father and sprinkles a bit of good-luck vibhuti in his mouth, or that last line he delivers to Pasupathy, which makes you laugh and also makes you tear up a wee bit at the truth it contains about many fathers and sons. Pasupathy asks, “Unga appa-na romba pidikkuma?” And the boy replies, hesitating just a bit, “Appidi ille – aana avar engappa.” Bravo!
  • And speaking of lines, I don’t think I’ve seen many gangster movies that made me laugh more. A suspicious cop asks the driver of a car headed to Pondicherry to open his mouth and say aah. The wiseass driver replies, “Ippa dhaan sir porom” Hahahahaha! Also, vellakkaara mookkupodi? Awesome.

Copyright ©2011 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.