Every Shankar film, ranked

Posted on November 22, 2018


Read the full article on Film Companion, here: https://www.filmcompanion.in/every-shankar-film-ranked-baradwaj-rangan-2.0-enthiran-arrahman-rajinikanth-mudhalvan-indian/

Shankar wasn’t the first Tamil filmmaker to mix animation and live action in a song sequence. SP Muthuraman got there with the Rajinikanth-starrer Raja Chinna Roja, in 1989. But see the two music videos today, and you see the difference between a safe, efficient filmmaker and one with balls-out vision and drive. The Raja Chinna Roja song imagines the Superstar with a bunch of children, in a forest, as Disney-esque animals scamper around them. The most that happens is that they get trapped in a fire, which is put out by an enterprising elephant. Cute is the word that comes to mind. Or saccharine, if you’re more of a grouch. But Chiku buku rayile, from Gentleman, is something else. Prabhu Deva opens his jacket and sends hearts to Gautami. She squishes them like you’d clap a mosquito dead. He shoots arrows at her with his eyes. She drops one of them in a dustbin. He then sheds giant, comical tears, that plop on the ground with a tiny splash. Many words come to mind. Overkill. Overreaching. Tacky. But also: Fun. Crazy. Unexpected. Larger than life. Like nothing else out there.

That’s Shankar for you. Someone who’s always out to wow you. Someone whose imagination has always exceeded what the practical realities of Indian budgets and effects houses can give him – but also someone who doesn’t let this stop him. He’s someone who wants to build the Taj Mahal with bricklayers. And someone who’s utterly unapologetic about his reputation as a size-matters showman. To understand why all of this is a good thing, we have to consider the two kinds of filmmakers that have made their name (and subsequently become legends) in Tamil cinema. On the one hand, you have the “classy” filmmakers: Sridhar, K Balachander, Bharathiraja, Balu Mahendra, Mahendran, Mani Ratnam… They were all mainstream filmmakers, of course, and perhaps you could label them “commercial”, too, for they did have many hits. But their aesthetic was governed by a kind of narrative artistry, not spectacle.

On the other hand, we have the out-there entertainers, the directors who wanted to show you the seven wonders of the world for the price of a movie ticket. You’d begin, of course, with SS Vasan. His Chandralekha (1948) came with hundreds of giant drums, on which hundreds of dancers danced, and from inside which hundreds of rebel soldiers emerged at the end. A few years later, he produced (but did not direct) Avvaiyaar, where hundreds of elephants overcame hundreds of soldiers and brought down a fort. But these films still fell under the mythology/fantasy rubric, where larger-than-life was the way of life. If a movie was set in Indra’s realm, as Manaalaney Mangaiyin Baagyam (1957) was, or if it was set in Shiva’s abode, as Thiruvilaiyaadal (1965) was, the pomp and pageantry wasn’t just expected, but necessary. What about BR Panthulu, you ask? He didn’t make only mythology/fantasy, and yet, his films were still big. But Veerapandiya Kattabomman (1959) and Kappalottiya Thamizhan (1961) were still historical epics, not contemporary stories. Even the genie in a “social” story like Pattanathil Bootham (1964) isn’t just expected but necessary, owing to its roots in the Arabian Nights.

To get to the forebears of Shankar, we have to consider directors who sought out spectacle in “regular” (as opposed to historical or mythological or folklore/fantasy) films.

Continued at the link above.

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