Friday, March 27, 2009

Pithamagan (2003) is also directed by Bala with score and soundtrack by Ilayaraaja.

Chithan (Vikram), orphaned at infancy, is adopted by the person who takes care of burning ghats (Hindu crematoriums). He is barely human. Vikram has given his best to this role.

Gomathy (Sangeetha), a ganja seller, takes this creature under her wings and gets him a job at the villain’s ganja fields.

Sakthi (Surya), a lively conman, gets more than he bargained for when he tries to pull the wool over the eyes of Manju (Laila), a polytechnic student. Surya is another amazing actor from the Tamil film industry and he steps into this role with consummate ease.

Sakthi meets Chithan in jail. They bond and Chithan develops a dog like devotion to this young man, who is one of the two people who seem to care for him. It is this

which sets us up for the kill.

Grass is not just green in India. It is something many of us look back on with fond nostalgia but this look at the underbelly of life behind the friendly “joints” gives one pause.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Sethu (1999) is a Tamil film directed by Bala, with score and soundtrack by Ilaiyaraaja.

Sethu (Vikram), a typical Indian macho college union president, seems to thrive on violence. He lives with his brother who is a Judge and who is quite disapproving of him and his sister-in-law who is more sympathetic. Love in the form of the timid Abitha, daughter of a poor temple priest, turns Sethu’s life upside down.

The tender love story plays the perfect foil for the cruel twist of fate that follows.

The role so fits Vikram that the public often addresses him by his nickname in the film: Cheeyan. Abitha wins the heart with her portrayal of pure innocence.

That which sets the film apart, however, is the depiction of some forms of mental health care as it still exists in India. This topic can and should be controversial rather than swept under the carpet. As shown in the film, it is dismaying and yet without the existence of alternative treatments all health care becomes as good as the old witch doctor system.

Interestingly, the presiding “doctor” in the film’s institution is a White man. Could this be a reflection on the tendency of some foreigners to come to India, pick up a bit of this and that and immediately seek to milk it for monetary gains?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Love Affair with Kollywood

When I was about ten years old, somewhere in the late Sixties, my family moved to a small coastal town in South India. Those were days when the idiot Box had not yet hit India. Radios were rare. The phrase Sound Pollution had not yet been coined and pollution as such was yet to cloud the horizon.

Although my father was a South Indian and we were living in South India (I was born in the South and there I lived till I was Twenty), we only spoke English and a bit of Hindi at home. The few films we saw were either in English or from Bollywood. If you are not Indian you won’t quite follow what I’m trying to get at.

India is huge. India has an awful lot of languages. Each State of India is almost another country if one thinks in terms of language, culture and cuisine. Before moving we lived in Karnataka where Kannada is spoken.

Pondicherry was a charming ex-French colony with a mainly Tamil population.Hence it was that in those early years, I rejoiced in the Tamil film songs that floating down to me from roadside tea shops and temples. Alas! In those days I lived cocooned in an Ashram whose population was mainly from the North of India and thus could not decipher the lyrics. More tragic is the fact that I cannot now easily locate those tunes online.

It was only in my graduate years when I joined a local college that I got a proper exposure to Tamil films and they had some good ones in those years (late Seventies).

From the swash buckling MGR/Sivaji era, Kollywood had graduated to a much more muted mood. Anti-heroes and tragic heroines dominated stories where social issues prevailed over formula offerings. Pathinaru Vayathinile’s village idiot, Chapani (Kamal Haasan) caught the cine goer fancy far more than fancy costumed hero dancing around trees could. Shobha’s heart wrenching innocence was responsible for many a choked sob in the stalls.

I do not know much Tamil but a well made film often speaks for itself. And the cinematic striving of Tamil movies towers over that of other Indian genres. It is world class many a time and yet lies neglected. It is something of a shame that such excellent movies are rarely to be found with English sub-titles.

There was a long hiatus in the years that followed as I went North until I came to Malaysia and here I have re-established my relationship with Tamil cinema.

In the posts to come I hope to cover ten Tamil films which I have enjoyed recently.