Kaaka Kaaka and Gautam Menon

I got a chance to watch the overseas DVD version of Kaaka Kaaka which has commentary of Gautam Menon. Though I have seen lot of English movies with the commentaries of directors, it was a new experience to watch a Tamil movie like that and I really enjoyed it. As far as I know no other Indian director has done that before. In a recent interview on some 24X7 news channel, while asked about Tamil cinema, Gautam Menon replied, “Go International” and though that doesn’t show up in the quality of the content in his movies, it shows up in something else like such DVD releases which go Hollywood way.

My immediate thought after watching the DVD was that the commentary could have been in Tamil. Not that Gautam’s English was bad but just to avoid the odd factor in watching a Tamil movie with an English commentary. Mostly he was praising one of the cast or crew for every other scene and talked about the technicalities involved in each scene especially he praised Editor Antony a lot. He said a lot about how he shot exactly the way he had written the scenes in paper.

If you want to know why such a horrible character called Pandiya (Jeevan) was conceived, you can watch this DVD. All the explanations he gives in Pandia’s scenes about how he wanted the character to be and what was the intention of having each scene involving him clearly tell us what went wrong in Gautam’s script. Thank God, Gautam took out the love angle between Maya and Pandiya; it would have made things even worse. I should laud Gautam for being very frank and honest at some places when he says about how badly he executed some of the scenes, for example the Maya love proposing scene. Of course, there is an alternate climax and the reasons for choosing the one that is there now.

Though, I don’t think it was a great movie, I liked the sweet love story between Maya and Anbu Selvan, and it is one of those rare movies where we love the lovers and their love. From his commentary, it was evident that Gautam has put in a lot of effort in making this movie and I really like his intentions to go international and it would be better if his real intentions get converted into reality well with a good script. For now eagerly waiting for the release of “Pachaikili Muthucharam” which Gautam said is a bound script initially written for Kamal Haasan.

Sivapathigaram Music

Vidhyasagar was out of music scene for sometime in this year and made a strong come back with surprising all melody soundtrack for Thambi. And now he is at it again with “Sivapathigaram”. Karu Palaniappan and Vidhyasagar combo is the next in the long queue of Tamil movie and music directors’ combo which triumphs with every other soundtrack. I would like to call this a good soundtrack than a good music album.

Parthiban Kanavu had one of my favourite folk songs “Vadi Machiniyae”. The same combo comes up with authentic folk numbers in this soundtrack. The traditional rhythms, melody, Urumi melam, strings, flute, the vocals, lyrics are all so earthy and rustic which we heard only in Illayaraja’s folk numbers before. Good melodies come so easily to Vidhyasagar and so are the folk numbers. By saying folk numbers, I didn’t mean the dappanguthu numbers; it is literally traditional folk numbers. After a long time it was Vidhyasagar who came up with an authentic folk number “Putham Pudhu Pattu Vandha Thandavakonae”. In my opinion, it is one of the master pieces of his in the lines of “Malarae Mounamaa”. Everything fell in place in that song. Similarly, there is a song in this album which instantly made me go crazy. Interesting lyrics and catchy beats makes “Mannarkudi” song instantly likeable. In the second interlude when the percussions lead us to the Shehnai theme bit, it just pushes up our energy level. Equally good are the other situational folk numbers which brings the shots from some Bharathiraja’s movies to our mind.

One more USP of the album is the choice of the singers. He has used some real folk singers which add to the authenticity of the song. Besides, in the romantic melodies, we have got Swarnalatha and Sujatha two rare talents whom almost every other composer has forgot. Though Swarnalatha struggles at higher ranges, she has a magnetic voice and her expressions are too good in “Chithirayil” song. Sujatha in lower ranges is equally great in “Attrai Thingal”. No need to mention about the beautiful orchestration and haunting melodies in both the duets. Sainthavi is one new talent who has got great potential to make it big. I think it is again Vidhyasagar who uses her regularly. Listen for her voice in “Poranthiruchu Kaalam”. T.K.Kala, a regular in Rahman's folk numbers is here again leaving quite an impression in a folk song.

There are two other songs which add to the variety in the sound track. “Kalloori” though sounds pretty ordinary, has got nice melodic lines in between. Vidhyasagar has been often trying to do something in the symphony format (tried to some extent in Chandramukhhi background score) but his symphonic style of orchestration is meaningful, brilliant and befitting for the Bharathidasan song “Kolaivaalai Edada”.

The lyrics by Pa.Vijay and Yugabharathy for this movie prove that there is no point in blaming the lyricists for the insanity of the lyrics in Tamil songs. On the whole, this album with its variety and earthy sounds must be an appropriate soundtrack for the movie.


CDs, DVDs, Books

Finally, Aamir Khan seems to have convinced with the deal to release the DVD of Lagaan in Indian. Hope the DVD has some additional features other than just the movie, subtitles, scene selections etc., I mean the wait would be worth if they include the “Chale Chalo – The Making of Lagaan” documentary film directed by Satyajit Bhatkal which even won the national award for best documentary. I already have read the book on making of Lagaan which is as entertaining as the movie.

Rahman after revolutionizing the sound of Indian film music now tries to do the same with the financial rights of the music done for movies. I feel it is a step in right direction. More than anything else, my happiness is because Rahman would now have sufficient time to do non-film music albums.

After six months, I have read a new book called “Like the Flowing River” by Paulo Coelho. It is a compilation of articles and short stories written by him in various magazines. I would say it as a blog of Paulo Coelho in print. Though contents become repetitive after a point, it is enlightening and entertaining all through as any other PC book.

K.M.Radhakrishnan has become one of my favourite composers. He scores primarily for Telugu movies. His recent album “Maya Bazaar” though has got the feel good elements of his music is not as great as his previous “Godavari” or “Anand” album. And I still wonder why Aditya music didn’t release the audio of “Godavari” outside Andhra. May be quality doesn’t sell.

Tamil film music is going through a bad phase now, except for one or two songs, no recent Tamil film album is worth listening. I would prefer Hindi version of “Shiva” to “Udhayam 2006”, it really sounds horrible, I mean the lyrics. The new comer Paul.J has done a great job in “Yenno Ithu Yenno” song from ECR. The other two songs that I liked are “Kanja Pennae” and “Oru Kodi”. D.Imman after continuously doing dappanguthu numbers for Arjun and Sundar.C movies has found some time to come up with two good melodies “Vizhigalil” and “Kannukul” in Thiruvilayadal. The new singer Rajesh Krishnan does an impressive job in “Idhu Kadhal Kadhal” song from Vattaram (music by Bharadwaj). The other song which I really liked very much is “Ovvoru Pillayum”. The lyrics and the rendition of Mukesh make this song special. Mukesh has already sung “Theekuruvi” song in “Kangalal Kaithi Sei”. I have seen and admired Mukesh singing Seergali Govindarajan’s classic “Ullathil Naalla Ullam” from Karnan.


Da Vinci Code Movie

Most of the Hollywood movies are adapted from novels. But the question is how many really succeed in satisfying the viewers those who have read the book and those who haven’t read it equally. I think that is the biggest challenge when you adapt movies from novels. Great novels are not always the best sellers. It is safe when the movie is based on a great novel because only after watching the movie most of them would know about the novel and then would go and read it. If the book is the best seller then the makers are really in high pressure to meet the sky high expectations and one need not mention the difficulty if it is a novel like Da Vinci Code which is beyond just a best seller which had facts and conspiracy theories leading to lot of controversies and people are still discussing the questions the book rose.

Personally, as I was not an avid reader, I didn’t get a chance of watch movies that are based on novels that I read and liked. “Memoirs of Geisha” was the first movie that I saw based on the novel which I have read. I have read “Da Vinci Code” and I was sure that the movie is not going to make it. “Da Vinci Code” is not an ideal novel to make a movie on. If you make a movie on a biography, there are parts which you can skip to compress the content and present the novel comprehensively on screen without actually loosing the essence of the book. But with a novel like “DVC” where every single incident, every single line of verse, every single twist, every single character, every single conversation is important for what is going to happen, coming up with a convincing screenplay out of it is a next to impossible task.

Why I didn’t like the movie?

Casting of Lead characters, both Tom Hanks and Andrey Tautou doesn’t look like how imagined the characters of Robert Langdon and Sophie or neither it seems they look like how most of the readers imagined their characters. My Robert Langdon didn’t have those long hairs and a dull face, he is a charismatic personality whose mere presence fills the place with the aura of brilliance and intelligence and there is no trace of any of this in the face of Tom Hanks. To my surprise, he looks so less involved in the movie all through. Sophie on the other side is also the same, look for her blank expressions in most of the scenes. For example, when Tom finds that the jumbled words are actually, Leonardo Da Vinci and The Mona Lisa, look for the way Sophie says, “Professor, the Mona Lisa is here” like a kid saying the mugged-up dialogue in a school drama. Her persona or her performance lacks the strong, stubborn and courageous look and feel that the Sophie character demands.

Unlike the novel, Robert Langdon was kind of sidelined giving more importance to Sophie as the other characters most often say in the movie that she is the last descendant of Jesus Christ. Robert Langdon’s genius and his adventures are not explored fully; instead the movie gives more importance to the emotional journey of Sophie. It may be intentional because the whole novel is about how sacred feminine has been suppressed all these years. I never thought Sophie as the central character while reading the novel, though actually she is. Each reader has his own way of interpreting a story which doesn’t mean the story is not clear, it is clear to each one in their own way. It is just that my interpretation of the whole story doesn’t match with that of the makers.

The most fascinating aspect of the novel is not just what happens next but also how it happens. The movie just captures what-happens-next part of it and leaves behind how-it-happens part which makes us not to admire when Robert Langdon finds something to proceed to the next step in their quest. There is so much of thought involved before solving each riddle or puzzle or the anagrams but Robert Langdon seems to get everything in a flash of a second in the movie

For example, there is so much of detailing, debate, conversation and digging into the history involved before they find that the words engraved in the key is actually the address of the Swiss bank and who can forget the detailed explanation about Phi and how it relates to the mathematical precision of everything that exists in the world. In front of the Mona Lisa painting in Louvre museum, Robert Langdon has pages and pages of theories to explain. The interesting conversation between Leigh Teabing, Sophie and Langdon in the plane for solving the Cryptex and the way they arrive at So-phi as the final solution for the Cryptex are missing in the movie.

I know that in the medium of cinema all these lengthy conversations are not possible. But that is why I said the Da Vinci Code is not an ideal novel for making a movie. No movie can give us the same excitement, chill, thrill and suspense which the novel gave us but unfortunately that is what most of the readers of the book expect from the movie. This is also one of the reasons why I felt Robert Langdon character was sidelined and looked less interesting. Explanations of all these facts about theories, history, secret connections by Langdon made us wonder about Langdon’s knowledge in history. When each time Langdon arrives at a solution for each problem by linking all these strange facts made us wonder his acumen. But the audience doesn’t get this kind of amazement and wonderment by looking at Langdon in the movie.

Why I like the movie?

The movie gave a chance to me to visit all those places described in the book. It is more vivid for me now and I would really enjoy reading the book next time. The history and the present are well blended in the visuals through special effects. I liked the way the words appear bright when Tom thinks of all possible combinations of words from the anagram. Especially explanation of the last supper painting was so clear which even a layman can understand. I think it is only at this place, the theories, the facts and the history are verbally discussed by the characters, of course it is crucial as it reveals the truth about Mary Magdalene and I like the way this long conversations is blended well within this frame-turner (like page-turner for novels) without boring the audience. To compensate for the inappropriate cast for lead characters, the cast and their performance for supporting characters like Leigh Teabing, Aringarosa, Fache and above all Silas are extremely believable and convincing. Being aware of the constraints that the medium of cinema has in bringing the novel to life on screen, the adapted screenplay is actually good. They have covered all the major happenings in the novel and within the given time it drives the point home clearly and cleverly.

I stayed away from the movie after reading all negative reviews but I am happy that I watched the movie finally. Though it is not completely convincing, it is a must watch for all those who cherished reading “Da Vinci Code” and who are aware that the movie will not be like the novel.


Umrao Jaan Soundtrack

Bollywood is in remake fever giving new sound and colour to yesteryear classics. After the soundtrack of “Don” which faced a lot of harsh criticisms for the music not matching the quality of the original, here comes the sound track of J.P.Dutta’s “Umrao Jaan” with music by Anu Malik and poetry by Javed Akthar . I am happy that I haven’t heard the sound track of the original version, which makes me to listen to the album without any prejudices and expectations. Even if I had heard it, I would never compare it with the original. My high expectation on the album is only because of the Dutta-Malik combination who gave us some worthy soundtracks like “Border” and “Refugee”.

Classics and Nostalgia

No matter how great is the music in the new version; it cannot and will not match the class or standards the original version has set. It is mainly because, it is not just the quality of music which makes us love those old songs so much, there is something more to it, it is the nostalgia of yours attached to each of the songs, which a new soundtrack can never give you. Whenever I listen to “Kaatra En Vaasal (Paigham from Lakeer in Hindi)” song from the Tamil movie soundtrack “Rhythm”, it immediately will remind me of my first day in college, because at that time, it was the newly released A.R.Rahman album and I was listening to it repeatedly while traveling to the college. If they remake the movie “Rhythm” and even if A.R.Rahman scores a better music for the same movie, I would still prefer the music of the original version as it reminds me some of the best episodes of my life but it doesn’t mean that the music of the new version is any lesser good than that of the original version.

New Sound

Also I don’t understand what the big fuss about the new sound is, what matters is the new melody. We people these days look for innovation in sound and rhythm more than the main melody in the song. It is pretty simple, music has to please your soul, relax your mind with fresh melodies and this album has got just that. I am not against new sounds but it is not mandatory for me, what I look in a song is a pleasing melody and only next comes everything else. People would call the music boring and outdated, even if Naushad comes with a “Mughal-E-Azam” in this era. That is the extent to which we have got used to this often misinterpreted term “the new sound”.

Music of Umrao Jaan

Considering the nature of the movie, Anu Malik has concentrated on main melody than innovative orchestration or sounds, like we use to listen in A.R.Rahman’s scores for period films. You cannot listen to a heavy bass line in a mujra (as you can listen in Rahman’s mujra Mein Vaari from Mangal Pandey) of Anu’s score for Umrao Jaan. Anu restricts himself to the style of music and instruments that is authentic to the period and that only adds simplicity and in turn beauty to the score. The songs are situational and are written suiting the various moods and emotions of a courtesan. Strings flowing like a river stream sounding her inner emotions - Sarangi giving the exact sound of the period and adds the sound of various emotions like love, longing and loneliness - Sitar pieces are like plucking the heart strings - tabla beating out with rhythm of Umrao Jaan’s heart - flute flourishing like fresh breathe of her embracing Nawabs in the court – Chal Chal sounds tracing the legs of her and all put together creates the perfect aura of each and every song.

I read in Anu’s interview that Javed Akthar insisted to write the lyrics first for which he had to compose tunes. It is quite a toll task considering the nature of such poems, the music has to complement the beauty of the words in poem and yet find its own beauty in its melody. It is a kind of perfect blend of the beauty of the words in the poem and the melody which can deliver a soul stirring number that also befits the situation in the movie. Anu Malik seems to have struck a right chord in doing that convincingly though not perfectly. The songs are slow, takes it own time to buildup, has got often heard Naushad style of subdued orchestration, nothing new in sounds or overall format but what makes it pleasant and appealing is the simple melody. Alka Yagnik is the voice of new Umrao Jaan, quite a surprising choice but she has done justice to the compositions. I am not going to single out a song as all the songs sound equally good to my ears. This album may not be for everyone, not that it has complex classical compositions but its pace and similar orchestration in all the songs may test one’s patience. Yet the album is a perfect companion for one’s loneliness.

May be Ismail Darbar would have done a better job giving new sounds and complex orchestrations by interweaving western classical elements with pure Indian classical melodies, but it is not about who should have done it and how it should have been, we can only judge the songs for what it is. I am not saying that the soundtrack is great but it is not bad either, Infact very good.


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United 93

Have you ever thought about what you were doing at your place when something disastrous was going on in some other part of the world? On 9/11 when it happened, I was sitting cool in my college hostel watching a Tamil movie in KTV. Suddenly when one of the guys switched to the news channel we saw smokes coming out of the targets and we didn’t realize how biggest a disaster was happening at that time and thought it as a fire accident and switched back to KTV. But what if you could see simultaneously what was happening at the same time (i.e., when I was watching movie in KTV) inside those planes that hit the targets. A lot was happening in two other planes one targeted on Pentagon and the other on the White House. “United 93” is one of hardest hitting, real (literally) life docu-drama that brings those moments of chaos in Air control offices and also in the United 93 plane which was hijacked to hit White house, almost exactly like how it happened on that day.

It is quite usual in Hollywood to make movies based on real life incidents and disasters. We had movies like a romantic epic ‘Titanic’ which conceived the accident with a love story in the fore and making the accident as a backdrop. Before, if I were asked about my favourite among the Hollywood movies made, based on real life incidents, my immediate reply would have been Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ but not anymore. These movies visualized the real incident as authentic as possible but nothing can come near to what Paul Greengrass has achieved in “United 93”. It is really real. The happenings on United 93 are written as authentically as possible based on the information got from the Black box.

There are no newly married couples, no two passengers who fall in love after getting into United 93 and trying to help each other to escape from the situation, no father trying to save his son, no kid trying to save its puppy, no hero fighting with the villains to save the plane and no usual clich├ęs anywhere in the movie. It is just the event; the incident itself is the anti-hero of the movie. You can very well understand the intention of the director not to give importance to any single character from the very first scene of the movie. The passengers who are going to board United 93 flight talk to their relatives and pals over phone and no conversation is given importance and you just hear a lot of noise as like how you would hear those conversations when you were sitting there in the lobby as one of the passenger and even the visuals are the random shots of all the passengers on how one would have a quick look at his co-passengers and this totality remains till the end.

We know what happened, we know the ending, and we know it is going to happen but as the movie races towards the end, out heart beats faster and tense creeps into our mind like those passengers on board and it yearns for the safe landing of the flight. Never before while watching a movie, I have said ‘Oh! My God’ as many times as I said while watching this movie. Even the villain, the hijackers are the not the villains here because they earn equal and sometimes much more sympathy of ours than the passengers get. Their constant prayers to God, their constant dilemma about the intention of their actions, their fear, trembling and one of them saying final goodbye to his wife over phone are as human as no villain can be in a movie. Yet they do what they have been ordered to do. What hell on the earth would have prepared a human mind to blindly follow someone’s instruction and do something like this on the cost of his own life?

More than the happenings in the plane, the chaos in the air control offices in the land is captured authentically with some of the officers playing themselves. It takes a little time to understand at least for a non-American like me who is who and what they all are doing over there, and though initially technical jargons of the officers puts you off, we will slowly get used to the terms and indulge ourselves in the proceedings and that is where the success of the screenplay lies which maintains a right balance between raw real facts and human side of it. Paul Greengrass please take a bow for capturing the things with much sensitivity and yet without hurting any of the victims of the tragedy.

“United 93” is an experience not to be missed.