One thing we have to say about KV Anand: the man believes in spinning a yarn. At purely the plot level, Anegan is something of a pulp masterpiece. It may have to do with reincarnation. It may not. Because if it’s really reincarnation, then why does Madhumitha (Amyra Dastur) treat it so casually, as if remembering things from past lives is something that happens to all of us, every minute of every day? (The answer may be that she’s your standard-issue Tamil-cinema loosu ponnu, but still…) Or maybe it’s about hallucinogen-induced video games, developed at a company headed by Kiran (Karthik). After a while, it becomes hard to tell what’s real and what’s imagined, and we’re not sure if all (or any) of it makes much sense – but that’s part of the fun. Many of our films end up preposterous because we cannot believe that we are actually watching this, that this is actually happening, but when the preposterousness is in the DNA of the plot, that’s a good thing.
But a plot is just the skeleton. It needs muscle, tissue, blood – it needs fleshing out. Alas, Anegan looks as undernourished as its leading man, Dhanush. (He plays a tech guy named Ashwin, and there’s a good crack about his weight… or the lack of it.) The first half is practically a write-off. We meet Madhumitha, who’s got bucketloads of money. We know this not because she lives in a mansion, or because her idea of a shopping destination is out of the pages of Vogue. (Some of the brands she buys: YSL, Hermès, Rolex.) No. We know she’s rich because she nibbles at a loaf of bread for breakfast, and has sandwiches for lunch – bread, as we well know by now, is the caviar of the Tamils. Anyway, the thing she buys at YSL is a belt. It’s for Ashwin, who she’s convinced is her soul mate across rebirths. He’s convinced he isn’t, and to make her understand his position, he straps that belt on his dog and takes it for a walk. She flips out, naturally. She begins to throw rocks at him – presumably from the collection inside her head.
Why is it so difficult, in our commercial cinema, to see women who behave normally? On a scale of 1 to 10, why are they always a 15? They speak oddly, as if reading off a teleprompter with a multiple-personality disorder. They gesticulate wildly, as if they were missionaries who landed up in equatorial Middle Africa and found out they’d have to use mime in order to communicate with the natives. And they do the weirdest things. At one point, Madhumitha, driving a car, commands Ashwin to kiss her, otherwise she’ll keep speeding. Elsewhere, she comes out of the bath, wrapped in a towel, and imagines that the female domestic help is Ashwin. The inevitable lesbian allusion follows – I guess we’re meant to laugh. There’s a swishy gay character as well, and the minute he showed up, the guy behind me yelled “Osma” and laughed a good thirty seconds at his own joke. And this character doesn’t even do anything in the movie – he’s just there, apparently, because you cannot make a big-budget Tamil movie these days without gay characters swishing about. This isn’t about political correctness. This is about writing a screenplay with situations that make us feel something, with characters that make us care. Or maybe I’m protesting too much. Maybe there’s a large section of the audience that feels it’s enough if Madhumitha can pucker up her mouth and blow kisses.
The heroine’s inadequacy is felt more keenly here than in other films, because Madhumitha is an interesting character. We wouldn’t mind as much if she was just the hero’s arm candy. It’s the other way around – Ashwin is her arm candy. She drives the story. We needed a better actress. That’s a long wish list. We needed better songs. (Harris Jayaraj delivers with Dangamaari, but every other number is a… reincarnation.) We needed better cinematography – what we have here is location scouting (Burma! 1980s Chennai!) masquerading as cinematography. We needed better red herrings than the sight of a man with his hand in his pocket. We needed a better villain. The actor who plays the villain here – I’m not supposed to name him, et cetera – caused me actual physical pain. (The one time I laughed was when Dhanush mimicked him.) The second half, though, is better – not by a lot, but at least the romantic shenanigans are done with and the plot gets moving.
The problem with Anegan is the entire screenwriting approach – and I admit that this may really be my problem. Films like Anegan and I, and perhaps all the films today with big stars and big budgets, follow this style of narration that focuses on delivering a frisson in each scene – something punchy, something that makes us sit up (or at least, tries to make us sit up). And accordingly, we’re meant to respond to these films on a moment-by-moment basis. We like a scene, we cheer – and it’s on to the next scene, the next opportunity to cheer, never mind how odd this next moment is in the overall scheme of things. We’re not meant to care about whether, for instance, a character behaves one way now and another way later, as long as there’s something happening each time. The mere fact of this happening is supposed to be enough. It’s like tossing together a number of bright, shiny pieces that don’t really belong together and hoping we’ll have fun with the kaleidoscope. And this is completely different from the classical approach, where each scene is organically linked to the preceding one and the next one, where each character shows organic growth, with consistent behavioural traits, and where the humour and action and songs are an integral part of the narrative. But then, who makes those movies anymore?
- anegan = man of many faces
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