Sunday, September 09, 2007

Vettayadu Vilayadu and Shivaji

This is probably a late review; but it is prompted because of a discussion I had at work. I thought Vettayadu Vilayadu was a worse movie than Shivaji and it prompted some criticism. I will explain why I think so here.
I like Kamal Hasan - I think he is a great actor; my respect for him increased after watching Virumaandi. In this essay, I am not criticising Kamal - I am criticising Goutam Menon, the director of Vettayadu Vilayadu released in 2006.
In an interview to Vijay TV after the release of the movie, Goutam claimed that Tamil movies should go international. I had no idea what he meant by that - but it raised a red flag for me. He was obviously proud of his movie and he should not be.
Movie analysts say that a movie viewer gives 15 minutes to a director to make his case - the first 15 minutes of a movie a director has to basically get "buy-in" from the viewer regarding the theme.
Take the movie "Matrix". Extraordinary fights happen within the first 5 minutes. The viewer sees a woman killing 5 police men using unbelievable acrobatics. If the movie went on like that there would have been no difference between it and "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and hundred other Kung-Fu movies. But in the next 10 minutes the viewer is introduced to "Mr.Anderson" and the white rabbit and it is clear that the movie involves something close to the super natural and that an explanation will be forthcoming. The director now has the viewer intrigued and following his lead.
Now, if you took the fights in "Matrix" and made it a part of a movie such as "Mudhalvan" ("Nayak" in Hindi) you are taking a risk - because there is no explanation for why the hero is able to fly around in a movie in which otherwise everything is normal.
I have seen people watch the "Matrix" and then justify weird fights in Tamil or Hindi movies - including Rajinikanth or Vijaykanth movies. In "Matrix - Reloaded", Keanu Reeves fights with a hundred Smiths. BUT, the Matrix has an explanation.
That is, a movie has to be "internally consistent". The challenge is not to apply some kind of universal logic to a movie story - the challenge is that you create an internal logic that can help the viewer appreciate a movie. This is why "The Lord of the Rings" can be accepted as a good fantasy movie - it has a very good internal logical framework. I could not accept the "Chronicles of Narnia" because the director could not justify the reason why the kids in that movie were special.
This is also why people can accept certain kind of movies from Rajinikanth and not from Kamal Hasan. But more on that later.
The argument about Vettayadu Vilayadu was that Goutam Menon had introduced the genre of serial killing in Tamil movies. Therefore, in spite of its flaws, we should accept it. My friend's point was that we cannot compare it with serial killer movies in English - as a Tamil movie it was good enough.
I rejected this argument. First, there HAD been very good serial killer movies created in Tamil before - "Sigappu Rojakkal", "Nooravadhu Naal" and "Moodu Pani" come to mind. Thus Goutam is definitely not "introducing" a genre to the Tamil audience. Plus, the Tamil audience judges a movie on its own merits - we do not need to extend our thanks to a director just because he decides to "introduce" something to us out of pity.
(As an aside, there is this director Sanjay Gupta who copies Korean movies frame by frame to Hindi. He wants to be known as India's Tarantino, but unfortunately he is just a copy cat. Some of his supporters claim that he does a favor to us by "introducing" Korean movies to us. But of course, he could have done that as easily by buying distributing rights and dubbing them. Instead, he is trying to make money out of somebody else's story. That is thievery, not altruism.)

Internal Logic
The more important reason why I reject "Vettayadu Vilayadu" is because it completely violates any internal logic. Goutam shows his hero to be a completely normal person; shows very realistic shots; prepares us for a good detective story in the first 15 minutes; but then completely destroys it all by showing us the "Raghavan Instinct". This instinct lets Kamal find dead bodies buried anywhere. There is no explanation for his "instinct" - it is just hanging there.
The Raghavan Instinct is used repeatedly along with his sheer luck. In the final chase, Kamal just happens upon the bad guy while driving randomly around Chennai - what the hell?
Also, Goutam heavily depends upon shock value - I have never seen a serial killer movie in which they decsribe their whole childhood and every gory act they did. He overextends the shock value by casting the two bad guys as homosexuals. I could not understand why they were attacking women and raping them if they are homosexuals - Goutam should have had his facts straight. Apart from reinforcing the stereotypes about eunuchs and homosexuals, the movie did not enlighten us about anything.

Shivaji and the lack of logic
This whole thread is completely subjective of course.
Many reviewers have criticised the movie Shivaji for lack of logic. In the online threads there was heavy criticism of the movie and its fans.
Rajini movies are still very popular, I believe, for a good reason. I watched the movie "Anniyan" and hated it for its lack of logic. But, I could watch Shivaji and so could many people around the world. The reason is tied in with the "internal logic" I described above.
The director is trying to get "buy-in" from the viewers for a movie - but he has several resources for getting that buy-in. In the case of a Rajini movie, Tamil audience pretty much accept that Rajini movies show impossible, hard-to-believe fight scenes. They accept this even though they know that they will not accept this from other actors. What is the reason for this latitude given to Rajini? I believe it has been created over the years, mainly in the late nineties. It is also tied in with the several urban legends about Rajini - that he has more power and pull than Jayalaitha or Karunanidhi. he does have a larger-than-life image and people are WILLING to carry that into the movie theater.
I think Rajini himself understands this. He is humble as it is and has not bothered to hide his true self (unlike Vijaykanth).
So you see perfectly educated people walk into a movie hall and are able to buy a Rajini movie's story merely because he is in it. This is the fact and many movie personalities are clear about it. I am not sure that I am comfortable about this level of adulation for a person, but my point is that there is a perfectly rational explanation for the success of Rajini movies - an explanation that is common to every movie audience around the world.
If Kamal acted in a movie in which he moves his finger and a hundred people fly around, nobody will watch it. Does this mean Kamal is a lesser personality? I don't think so - the public image of Kamal as a realistic movie maker and actor carries forward when we watch his movies. He can be proud of that.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ram,

Though V.V lacks in internal logics(as per ur blog), still its good movie in tamil and Rajini's films are always apart from reviews. you cannt compare rajini filmes with anyone else

Pavithra said...

Kamal acts in a natural way and will make you cry in most of his movies.He doesnt say any special dialogues as Rajni.Rajni is good for his styles and he will never make his fans cry.His movies will always be a mixture of Comedy,Actions,Sentiment....
But,Rajni dosnt speak english as perfectly as Kamalhasan.Kamalhasan will suit for any kinda roles-as a begger or a millionaire.But Rajni will not even dream so.

Anonymous said...

Ram.. i think u had not been born in the 80's to understand Kamal's mass. I pity u to ask someone who can educate u. Rajini told he will fight against PMK. U saw the result? Rajini is simply useless