Readers Write In #251: A time when movies were just about entertainment, s**w the endless moral posturing

Posted on August 26, 2020

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(by Sudharshan Garg)

Confession before we begin, I have always been a sucker for basic, simple entertainment. Growing up in the 90’s (80’s kid here but in the 80’s we had the 2 channels of DD that’s about it), my favourite period of the day was 10-12 in the night, curled up in front of the TV in the hall, an ancient (even by the standards of the day) Weston which had 2 barely functioning buttons, and a sketchy signal cobbled together by tying together the cables of my neighbours with a pin and linking it to our antenna wire (my dad didn’t allow cable for a long time), and booting up Raj TV.

Why Raj TV? And not the “midnight masala”‘ my peer group watched in secrecy? Because screw breaking omlettes on navels or running spinning tops on navels (which was de rigueur those days) I was a man of simple tastes.

The 70’s and 80’s made village dramas. The plot was always the same

  • There would be a temple

  • Two families will fight for the rights to Mudal mariyadhai

  • The good family gets insulted

  • patriarch dies of shock

  • Sister gets raped -rape was never shown but a sari would hang from a fan….so this was implied. This was the corollary to the first night scene where those two dipping bird toys would come on screen (of a picture of a cat closing its eyes), fade to black and sunrise.

  • Hero gets revenge

  • Everyone unites

For some reason this and movies by Visu made me shut down my brain forget about board exam tensions or if my Valentine will accept my proposal (hint…it was always a no) and live in a simpler world.

I have been down with the flu (not covid, as Sheldon Cooper would say, my mom had me tested and it was negative) and was bored with the Netflix, Prime, HBO shows (did watch some brilliant ones recently though, Perry Mason being one of those), the book I was reading, Robert Conquest’s Stalin was too depressing so I switched to watching old (80′ & 90’s) Sathyaraj Gounder comedies, the full movies that is not just the comedy bits.

The one thing that stood out was how movies had next to no posturing, no social lectures on “poor farmers” or “evil MNC’s sucking your blood” etc etc. These movies had one goal, and that was not furthering the political ambitions of the star but serve full paisa vasool time pass

And it worked, Maman Magal, Thai Maman, Brahma etc etc. The plot was simple but the comedy was baked right in to the plot, the villains didn’t have some nefarious agenda to idk steal all the water of the city or takeover slums or whatever. Over time to cope with the inflated egos of our stars, Tamil movies have also been following a Marvelification (Marvel comics) of plots, where the stakes keep rising higher and higher endlessly. You went in knowing you will not get lectures or some high falutin moral posturing, and that’s exactly what they delivered.

By contrast even a dwarf star like Jayam Ravi postures in a movie about space! I happened to watch 10 mins of Tik Tik Tik and in this he manages to squeeze in a lecture about how we only buy China made products (man was prescient I guess)… It simply broke the tempo (or whatever there was of tempo)

It also helped that the comedy was imo far far better, Gounder as G Waugh also said is a far superior race of comedian to the likes of Santhanam or Yogi Babu or whoever infests the screen these days. Combine all this and you get pure masala. Something lacking these days.

The costumes though, like in Maman Magal Meena appears in a costume that looks like something a Russian Babushka would wear, married to a headpiece straight out of some porn version of Alladin.

See 13:50 for this particular ensemble

Post script – my biggest bug bear with this series of movies was Sathyaraj refusing to invest in an epilator and assailing us with his hirsute body in every song sequence.