Bullet-point Report: “180”

Posted on June 25, 2011


  • Sometimes, the fact that you haven’t seen a particular type of film in a long time can make you overlook almost everything else – like a heroine playing cute (which, in Tamil-commercial-cinema lingo, is defined as annoying) by speaking in two voices, or a man spitting out some semblance of the film’s themes to the hero at the beginning. The first half of 180 worked very well for me because of this very reason…
  • … which is that, after a long time, the Tamil cinema screen appeared free of blood, sweat, swearing, unshaven faces and striped underwear peeking out of bunched-up lungis. It was as if the screen at Sathyam had been laundered and scrubbed clean.
  • Of course, if all films were to turn out like this, we’d start complaining about that and begin to yearn for blood, sweat, swearing, unshaven faces and striped underwear peeking out of bunched-up lungis, as we do with Bollywood films. But for a change, this is nice. From the fonts in the “thanks” credits at the beginning to the shape of the packet of puliyodharai handed over to the hero in an autorickshaw, this is a film that’s been assembled by people with terrific taste.
  • And that matters because this is an urban film, about upper-middle-class people, and it makes a difference that it’s been made by people who understand what upper-middle-class urban life is all about. Unlike, say, Shankar, whose urban characters look like people from Saidapet wearing Manish Malhotra costumes. If you want to show people from Saidpaet, take a leaf from Selvaraghavan and show them as they are, in all their natural glory. Don’t coat them with a layer of varnish and then expect us to buy them.
  • The other thing about the urban life this film depicts is that there’s none of the galeej business that filmmakers often feel compelled to include because they do not want to alienate the majority of the audience who they think will not identify with these characters. But why make that movie then? Make the movie that you want to make, the one that you think these audiences will identify with. Why make Siva Manasula Sakthi?
  • And in those films, your murderous impulses are often roused by heroines who look like extraterrestrials in this milieu. They look alien. Their colour is different. They do not know the language. And we’re supposed to be filtered idiots because we’re supposed to buy these heroines as “Tamil” simply because they’re shown travelling in suburban trains clutching the latest Anandha Vikatan. The heroines here, in contrast, look like earthlings. They look like Tamilians you’ve seen around you. They look like they could be travelling in suburban trains clutching the latest Anandha Vikatan.
  • The reason the first half works so well is that the film does a good job of withholding information. We know that the story being told to us in flashbacks has a bearing on the present-day story, but it’s not easy to guess what it is. The intrigue is interesting.
  • After a spate of Tamil cinema wanting to redefine Tamil cinema, it’s nice to slip into a film that wants to do little more than tell a sweet story with sweet-looking people. It’s the equivalent of reading a slightly trashy romance tucked inside a leather-bound copy of Ulysses. Sometimes you just need a nothing movie, a movie that’s about nothing more than the movie itself, a movie that aspires to nothing more than being vanilla ice cream.
  • And then the second half happens, and in a misguided attempt to inject edge and angst, the film sprinkles molagapodi all over our half-eaten vanilla ice cream. (Spoiler alert) I felt cheated, by the end, for investing in and bothering about a character who’s just a selfish jerk (or maybe a self-absorbed jerk). After wondering which of the heroines would end up with him, I felt happy that the answer was neither. They deserve better. So he’ll bring happiness to all these other lives around him, but not the wife who became his life? Give me an effing break!
  • Why do the foreign extras in Indian movies always come off so badly? I mean, is it a quasi-patriotic stylistic choice, to make the local actors look good?
  • And unless your name in Ingmar Bergman and unless you’re raising questions about the existence of a higher power, it’s never a good idea to corporealise death. It looks ludicrous, especially when Death looks like a long-in-the-tooth Harlem gangster who’s maybe considering a change of profession as a rapper.

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