“Maattrraan”… Twin-twin situation

The director KV Anand is one of the foremost graduates of The Kitchen Sink School of Filmmaking. His philosophy is simple: keep throwing things at the audience until the film ends, and don’t throw the same thing at them twice. Does this guarantee good cinema? That is a question each of us will have to resolve for ourselves. What it does guarantee, however, is a modicum of entertainment. At least, we will be left giggling about the preposterousness of it all. Besides, you have to accord some respect, however grudging, to a story about conjoined twins that has the chutzpah to incorporate a mad scientist experimenting with multi-DNA genomes, athletes at the Barcelona Olympics, a near-death by a giant rock as hungry rats scurry about, a memory-boosting energy drink that may not be quite as salutary as it seems, a vodka-quaffing blonde spy from the erstwhile USSR, a runaway roller coaster, a bhoomi pooja in Gujarat conducted under the auspices of a Chief Minister who goes by the name of (gulp!) Surendra Lodi, and a straight-faced auction of Saroja Devi’s hairpiece.

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Anand wrote the screenplay of Maattraan with his regular collaborators, two acknowledged masters of Tamil pulp fiction who conjoined their names into the acronym Suba, and their premise touches on corporate malfeasance, with sinister higher-ups out to silence everyone within whistle-blowing distance. It’s Erin Brockovich reimagined as a lurid James Hadley Chase thriller. We should be purring in pulp heaven. But the usual suspects line up to scuttle early promises of a good time – like songs that crop at the most inopportune moments. Imagine this situation. You are in a country where you don’t speak the language. The person who was assisting you in your quest has just become collateral damage, blown to bits by a car bomb. Would you duck, soon after, into a nightclub and shake a leg with a few dozen belly dancers, even if the song is one of Harris Jayaraj’s sprightliest in recent times? This is not a tirade against musical sequences, but against their misuse. How is the audience supposed to stay invested in a movie, especially a wannabe thriller, that won’t settle on a mood?

Suriya plays Agilan and Vimalan, and the conjoined-twins aspect of this story is as much a marketing gimmick as echolocation was in the recent Vikram starrer Thaandavam. Neither film does anything meaningful – either emotionally or contextually – with these conceits, and for those who insist that this is too high an expectation to foist on a commercial potboiler, I have just two words: Naan Ee. That film worked wonders around its outlandish gimmick, and without doing away with the must-haves of songs and stunts, comedy and romance. The latter, in Maattrraan, arrives in the comely form of Kajal Aggarwal, whose fluency in Russian appears to outstrip her grasp of the language of the film she’s in. As for the villain, he is unmasked too early, and what we’re left with is the far less interesting question of how he will receive his retribution. (Tip: it has to do with broomstick-wielding women in Surendra Lodi’s home state.)

Anand does know, though, that reviewers like me are irrelevant to the box-office prospects of his film. To this end, he stages a scene by the roadside where Vimalan is injured and a distraught Agilan attempts to catch the attention of a passing car. His plight is aggravated by his inability to tear himself away from his twin. The first car speeds by without stopping. Then another. And a third. Finally, the driver of an auto stops to help. Make of this what you will, but note, also, how Agilan, when he begins work at his father’s company, stops to chat with the blue-collars, while his fat-cat father looks on with amusement. And with the mastheads of every major newspaper and magazine (especially the Tamil weeklies) shoehorned into frames, we may have the answer to what megastar movies are all about: the acknowledgement of the most significant fan bases, and the manufacture of sustained goodwill. Forget conjoined twins; this is Maattrraan’s real USP.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2012 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

24 thoughts on ““Maattrraan”… Twin-twin situation

  1. “the acknowledgement of the most significant fan bases, and the manufacture of sustained goodwill”

    So true! Brilliant review. I haven’t seen this but K.V. Anand seriously misuses musical sequences, in an almost trivializing-everything-else manner.

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  2. “How is the audience supposed to stay invested in a movie, especially a wannabe thriller, that won’t settle on a mood”?

    That doesn’t just apply to the positioning of songs but also a complete disconnect in tone and content between 2 adjoining scenes, something that’s always annoyed the piss out of me in some Tamil movies. I mean, do the people who write the screenplay think about the connectivity between scenes or do they just toss it all in a blender?

    Reminds me of watching Shivaji, there’s a tense scene where the villain, using the state apparatus of red tape and crippling bureaucracy, stops construction work on a hospital the hero’s building. So what’s the next scene that builds on this tension, getting you to invest in the plight of it’s protagonist? A scene of confrontation between hero and villain? A strategic plan to cut through the corruption?

    Nope, the very next scene has the hero stalking the heroine by gatecrashing her place and then proceeding to eat raw chillies to impress her (WTF????)

    A Russian nightclub that plays Harris J songs? Damn, those Russkies sure have piss poor taste in music :-)

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  3. Kamal keeps arguing that you need to involve real writers in cinema. But earlier Sujatha, and now Suba make a strong case otherwise. They seem to serve as just research assistants in aimless exercises.

    Ayan had a line flicked straight from The Departed..”Feds are like mushrooms, you feed them shit and keep them in the dark”-Alec Baldwin says this. In Ayan Surya says this after getting past the custom officer :-) Blink and you’ll miss it. Idhukku Suba edhukkuya? Naan freeya ezhudhi tharen

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  4. ” Neither film does anything meaningful – either emotionally or contextually – with these conceits,”

    I would have been surprised if it was otherwise. Some directors are so predictable that way.

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  5. KayKay: one thing that surprises me is that the Tamil directors who make these smaller, CineMadurai type films are much more careful about maintaining mood and emotional continuity than bigger, masala-type filmmakers. I wonder if there’s something there…

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  6. Commercial pressures ,, get a Surya, Vijay to act in these Cine Madurai films and you will get the generic crap.

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  7. Every Indian film-maker makes films with songs…. Films without songs do not succeed at the box office in India. If you are making a big budget film, you have to have songs because your film has to succeed at the box office.

    When audience want songs in films, what can you do? When they change and support films without songs, song-less films will come. Not otherwise. If audience start supporting films without songs, I will be the first film-maker to make films without songs! You know shooting scenes are easy but not songs. Scenes push the story and film forward but rarely songs.

    I like to see songs in romantic films. In serious films, I prefer not to have songs.

    dear dumb audience please excuse him
    http://www.rediff.com/movies/slide-show/slide-show-1-south-after-ayan-it-is-ko/20110124.htm

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  8. Comment in the Hindu web site:

    Wonder when this trend started where The Hindu’s movie reviewers started showing off their knowledge of world cinema and their English skills. It seems they’ve crossed over from being reviewers to being critics – what we want is simple reviews. What’s good about the movie, what’s not. The paper shouldn’t become the reviewer’s personal rant space.

    In fact nowadays, I can tell who the reviewer is with the choice of words for the article title!
    from: LVS

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  9. BR, another thing that pisses me off(and I wonder if you have asked this to any director/actor) is a trend, unintentionally started by maybe Kamal in Tamil cinema. That of spending unnecessary time grooming your body or learning a skill for an inconsequential scene in a film. Those weeks of rocket launcher training for that 15-sec scene in Kurudhipunal or that silambu fight training for months for Devar magan and so on. Maybe Kamal was a perfectionist, or a method actor or whatever, or maybe he just did it for hype or self-aggrandizement.

    But if Iam Surya or Vikram, I would think twice or thrice before investing 6 months of my life into six-pack building or dieting and giving up on things I usually love to do a badly choreographed stunt scene in a anverage masala. And what is this nonsense about “dupe podaama avare stunt pannaaru sir”. Idhula peruma vera. I feel like saying “you moron, you are putting your life at risk and putting your family in peril as well for insisting to do the stunts yourself for a meaningless exercise ultimately. And in the process denying a stuntman his job”
    After all, it is make-believe. I believe this is misguided bravado done for sheer PR.
    You are not De Niro, putting on 75lbs to play a boxer in Raging Bull.

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  10. “In fact nowadays, I can tell who the reviewer is with the choice of words for the article title!

    He is figuring you out only now :-)

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  11. “How is the audience supposed to stay invested in a movie, especially a wannabe thriller, that won’t settle on a mood”?

    I find a lot of reference to this above idea in the post and the comments.Why should movies settle on a mood when life doesn’t seem to?

    Let me give you an example — suppose you are a writer or a researcher working on something really “important” to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t take breaks in between and browse a couple of websites etc. In fact, the very act of taking that pause might help you to recharge your energies and avoid burn out. In my own experience as a researcher I take a break every 15 minutes or so….

    Why can’t you view a song for what it is…just a pause — an entertaining pause, where you can relax and recharge your energies.

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  12. Also it leaves me confused when one paper posts different reviews for the same movie.why not pick one and go with it. Case in question: thandavam and reviews by sangeetha, malathi and you. How are we to decide?

    I actually liked Ayan & ko but the songs were placed miserably, that even I knew it would do no good for the plot.

    Six pack, family pack,single pack all comes secondary to screenplay and story.why not write about that in your next column.

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  13. “Why should movies settle on a mood when life doesn’t seem to?”

    See, this is all subjective anyway. I rarely watch a movie to see life as it is reflected on celluloid. For me it’s escapism, entertainment, a puzzle for the mind to unravel, a feast for my eyes to drink in, to indulge in my basest emotions being manipulated (erotica, horror, revenge flicks, exploitation films) etc etc. And for me to stay invested, there needs to be a consistent mood maintained throughout.It happens in H/Wood as well when they try to mix Action and Romance and Horror and Comedy, and it only ever works in a few instances where a strong script and skillful direction (not exactly the twin mainstays of Tamil Cinema) holds the 2 threads in place.

    Perhaps a Western heavy diet of films makes it that much harder for me to switch tracks when an abrupt tonal change takes place. I know, this has been a mainstay of Indian cinema right from the start, but my mind can’t make the leaps required when a blistering monologue by Vijay railing against corruption and injustice is followed by Kovai Sarala beating up Vadivelu which then segues to Tamannah getting her ass grabbed on the Swiss Alps.

    Doesn’t help when I have to endure this during movies I genuinely enjoy. I mean, a tense face-off between Karthik and Prabhu, warring step-bothers unable to come to terms with their father’s bigamy and the next scene….V.K Ramasamy watching porn!!!!!

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  14. fijisuva: That’s a great question, and the simple answer is that movies are a compressed form of life, and therefore the pauses between random jumps of emotion are more awkward and ungainly. If I were to work and then check email, that’s a way of unwinding. But it’s less convincing if I work and then unwind by participating in the circus. If you have to show a song, at least make it a *dream* song, so that the realm of possibility (even if somewhat exaggerated) is still intact.

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  15. “a blistering monologue by Vijay railing against corruption and injustice is followed by Kovai Sarala beating up Vadivelu which then segues to Tamannah getting her ass grabbed on the Swiss Alps” bravo! you sir, are a poet. Have you considered writing scripts for Tamil cinema?

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  16. brangan :

    2 words – Naan Ee. 1 word – Cockroach.

    may be few more words – Naan Ee was also, rip off wonly.

    ‘wonly’ cause rip off discovery happened well past its box office running time. 100 days vera aayidichu. Naan Ee – Oscar nomination flag bearers were also there, who cursed Burfi for ripping off. but Naan Ee-um – same blood dhaan baays.

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  17. This is the latest “fb” trend in public attitude…either you “like” me or you “hate” me…there is no middle ground anymore…not only do i have to like a film but my friendly neighborhood film critic also has to like it…:P…but rangan negativity also has its positives…you are impacting people in some way…:)

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  18. Annamalai wrote:
    “2 words – Naan Ee. 1 word – Cockroach.
    may be few more words – Naan Ee was also, rip off wonly.
    ‘wonly’ cause rip off discovery happened well past its box office running time. 100 days vera aayidichu. Naan Ee – Oscar nomination flag bearers were also there, who cursed Burfi for ripping off. but Naan Ee-um – same blood dhaan baays.”

    The basic idea of a man dying and reincarnating as an insect is the same, but look at what Rajamouli has done with it! The revenge angle, the inventiveness, the humor, etc. It is obvious how much imagination and work went into that film. Artists get ideas from other sources all the time, and the good ones are truly inspired to create something fresh and new. I might as well throw out my copy of Taxi Driver because it was influenced by Diary of a Country Priest! :-P

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  19. Just off Anegan, expected to find a review here…gotta post somewhere

    In a world where its idols are increasingly passé, where even Rajinikanth has been reduced to a comic artifact, it is clear that KV Anand aims to be more, adukkum mele.

    Consider his choice of themes, and his treatment of them, it is clear that he aims to abandon the vigilante bull**** that his more famous peers like Shankar and ARM are famous for. If but for his tendency to choose stories that poo suthufy, he should/would/could have been a more celebrated director.

    KV Anand’s is a world where cinematography is not only done, but seen to be done, and if but for this viewing pleasure one would rather not walk into one of his movies. Those song sequences, those locations, even PC Sriram’s work in “I” fades before those beautiful blues, those poetic landscapes, each one a poster frame, each one a mini miracle of visualization.

    Having paid him that much needed compliment, let us attempt a review of Anegan.

    Hmm, we have another heroine who purses her lips, and she manages to make it appear cute rather than wanton. That she has other big pluses, does not count, but with some portions of some portions of the audience. Mmm, ya, she kisses rather too well.

    If there needs to be a reason one remembers a movie, then for this movie it has to be Amyra, there are moments when she dishes it out in such fashion that it puts an otherwise effective performer like Dhanush seem like an amateur. It is in the pauses that her face forms the reactions that enhance her performance. In the hands of a better director, this is one actress in contention for a future National award.

    A certain casting logic which dictates that only Dhanush can carry off all four social strata bridging roles seems to have made while choosing him, and yet, Dhanush being Dhanush, he does justice to all these roles in Dhanush like fashion, which is best called effective.

    Despite the four “awe-inspiring???” changeovers, he manages to remain himself, which is a major plus! KV Anand could have bet on a newer face, the story does not need Dhanush, and vice versa. KV Anand himself says elsewhere that Dhanush shines in the rejected lover roles, and yet fails to provide one to him, perhaps one reason the movie was not such a hit.

    I went into this movie after a friends poll proclaimed it a bore, but it wasn’t, the kitchen sink pile up does work rather well, there were no boring pauses. But then one wonders, why did it not work for the others.

    At movie end, there was that dazed look at the audience’s faces, but many of them stayed to watch it till the credit’s roll ended, showing that there was some investment they had made, into the characters and the story. It is just that the investment seems not to have been repaid in full fashion.

    Translating pulse quickening books to screen is always a risky affair and is best left to Crichton and Spielberg. That KV Anand and his script writers manage to keep us in this outlandish story is itself a measure of their success. Then there are those small cinematic tricks, tricks which compress the story that are done rather well. But that book feel, which delights book lovers but bores cinema lovers still persists, and perhaps this is the narrative’s undoing.

    One even ponders if this was KV’s reworking of Magadheera? Two reincarnations would have been more believable, and more fun, and saved the producer some money, and would have made more sense for the viewer, but then it has been made. Why not up the ante?

    Four (or was it three?) however meant that the subject meandered into philosophy proper, but then there was no philosophy in the narrative, which led into a narrative hole, which all the kitchen sink throwing could not close.

    Karthik as villain is at his sauve best, so reminiscent of Prithviraj in Kana Kanden, and and yet somewhere it doesn’t click. In the twenty year transformation from prospective bridegroom to aborted lover, mmm…one fails to put a finger on what is missing, but there is something. May be as villain he tends to take the easy way out, he lets his cohorts do the talking, and when he does it is so smooth that we appreciate him rather than hate him.

    So when the knife falls on him, we do not really celebrate as we ought to. There was a sigh of ‘you stupid” from the audience showing how badly the script writers amazing sounding intelligence “bit” had translated on screen. I noticed the same thing with Jilla too, where the makers seemed intent on showcasing their intelligence and ended up looking stupid. Too many “you stupids” in that one.

    Ashish Vidyarthi and the others do their jobs, Aishwarya has that part slut part angel look pat, and but directorial flaws destroy what should have been a pivotal role and performance. Lena (?) is effective as the doctor in cahoots with the villain, and her death is as effectively told.

    That some portions of the audience were waiting for the Dunga Maari song was evident as was evident that there were a sprinkle of hardcore Dhanush fans, two bouncers with caution inducing sticks walked up and down the aisles even as the song came on. Was it that good?

    That reminds me of a trend that seems pervasive these days, there are people who want to be in fashion. Not only be in fashion, but to be considered upwardly mobile, a kind of anointing, social climbing or Brahminisation. Therefore rather than Tamil cinema, it is its audience that has been getting increasingly cinematic, or imbecile, or was it always?

    So Dunga Maari has a few likes and what not, and so it is something you want to be seen as enjoying. Or whistling at… Harris, of whom I am something of a hard core fan, is ordinary, as he seems to be these days, and his RR is loud, as he is bound to be, these days. Sigh…

    So, in toto, a supposedly pulse pounding story line, an endowed heroine who can also act, the promise of Magadheera like eternal love, Dhanush in three / four avatars, lush cinematography, now what is it that the guys missed when they termed this a bore? Or what is it that the directorial team missed while they made it?

    Well, if anyone knew it, he could be the world’s best director, of commercial cinema…

    Good effort KV, change your script writers, stop choosing kaadhula poo suthufying stories, let us linger on those poetic visuals you tend to showcase and we have a director who can better the Shankars, and the ARM’s….in theory at least.

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