Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mussoorie Diaries -1

I landed in Mussoorie for a training program. Came via Delhi – stayed at a friend’s place for a couple of days, caught up with stories- old and new, and got an extensive tour of the malls in and around Delhi (Noida, Gurgoan etc.). If you haven’t seen/been to these malls, you haven’t seen malls – period. And, people from the US who are reading this and feeling smug that they have seen all that malls have to offer, and seen the most outrageous, over-the-top ones – sorry to burst your bubble- you haven’t. These Delhi ones are temples of consumption that are unmatched in their flamboyance, size and ridiculousness.

Then took the night train to Mussoorie, with a bunch of IFS officers who were traveling to attend a mid-career training – very genial fellows – all of them got up at an ungodly hour and yapped non-stop till they woke me up. Took a cab to Mussoorie and was promptly stunned by the Himalayas – imposing, awe-inspiring and majestic. I am still reeling from the awe-struck feeling – when ever I look out of my balcony or when I take a walk.

The first day had two super-boring, super-long (2 houurrrrrsss… each) sessions done artfully (the art where someone speaks a lot without saying anything). I don’t know how some people manage to talk entirely in clich├ęs and redundancies (sample bullet point on a slide: “sustainable development with integrated holistic approach”). Lesson for students – Don’t ever trust what a person says if he uses “innovation” and “strategy” in the same sentence.

Lesson #2: Don’t trust a professor who doesn’t encourage student participation. If a professor declares at the beginning that he knows students will go to sleep if he talks for too long, and proclaims that he plans to encourage student participation like never before – then definitely don’t trust him. (The good ones just do it, instead of saying it.)

And a word about our program coordinator: he is like a roshogulla – round and blank. The roshogulla will roll into the class once in a while and look here and there and roll out. When we ask uncomfortable questions regarding programming or some such thing, the rosho will quiver and roll its eyes uncomfortably before rolling out.

Some observations:

A crow sitting 6000 ft above sea level, alone on top of a tree, with a “kich-kich” problem, and needing someone to feed it Vicks desperately. It sounded more like a crow-bar stuck between barrels.

An IAS officer (mid-forties, I would say) with a harried look asking her colleague “Yaar, mera chashma ko-gaya; kal-se doond-raha hoon” – makes one think of the files and petitions at her office.

A recently recruited IAS trainee with dark rimmed glasses, and in trainers, lost in time, with that far away look. I looked at her for a few seconds – if I had looked any longer, I could have seen even my future through her lost gaze.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tamil films and the rising tide

These days, it feels pretty good to be a Tamil film rasigan. Some of the best films in the country are produced in Tamil. A majority of the top technicians and film makers at work today cut their teeth working in Tamil films. (Cinematographers - Ravi K. chandran, Santosh Sivan, PC, V Manikandan, KV Anand; Musicians - ARR, Illayaraja; Editors - Sreekar Prasad, Suresh Urs, Antony).

More than anything, there has been a renaissance in Tamil film industry (at this point you might think that I am going to start lecturing on film history or I am going to link this renaissance to the European one and bore you to death...relax...you are safe...I have as much knowledge about renaissance and film theory and history as Ajith has about acting, or Balakrishna has about underacting.) In plain language - there has been some really awesome, kickass Tamil films released in the last 5/6 years and the directors who made those films are getting better and better - which means more awesome, kickass films in the future.

And that makes me really really glad. There was never any shortage of talent or directors who broke barriers and gave some solid films. But, mostly those were breakthroughs in how they tell stories rather than what they say. Tamil directors have been great innovators of form, but not so great creators of content (how many two-wives, one-poor-suffering-husband combination stories can one tolerate). Not any more.

There is a bunch of new guys, who are exploring new issues, putting lot of thought into how to say it and giving entertaining, searing, scorching, throbbing films, that are filled with heart, without compromising their heads. Here are some directors to watch out for. And rent their films immediately - and do yourself a favour.

Balaji Shaktivel - director of Kaadhal (2004) and Kalloori (2007) (apparently he also directed Samurai - the film with one of the most loaded, double meaning songs ever - and sung by none other than Nithyashree Mahadevan- look for "Oru Nadhi..."; at this point, we can treat this as an abberration). I saw Kalloori and was blown away by his story telling, his decency, his camera work and how he found a way to picturise ordinary lives with such extraordinary detail. The scenes where Tammanna offers the hero a lift in her Kinetic Honda is just pure poetry.

Sasi - director of "Poo"(2009). He took a kickass short story by Tamil Selvan (One of the best writers at work currently, period. If this guy was writing in English, he would be the rave by now.) and made a beautiful film out of it. First rate visulatisation, uncomprosmising acting, thoughtful screenplay. Once again peering into seemingly ordinary lives and retelling the stories with heart and verve.

Vasantha Balan - director of "Veyil"(2006) and "Angaadi Theru" (2010). What this guy has achieved with "Angaadi Theru" so early in his career, few directors have achieved after decades in the industry. What performances he has extracted from his team! His industry, his vision, his execution, his talent, his courage - hats off!Watch out! Watch out!