Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Loss of a Legend. Lohithadas.

Film personalities are like fireflies. They light up the lives of many, and then fade into oblivion. Hardly do cinegoers ponder over their deaths or disappearances for more than a day. But this time around, it is just so different. Forget the cliche that 'He was a pillar of the Malayalam film industry' and all that. Just recall his films, and you will know what I mean.

Thaniyavarthanam, Kireedom, His Highness Abdullah, Bharatham, Amaram, Kamaladalam, Vatsalyam, Thoovalkkottaram..

The power of his pen was such that right from the first film he wrote, the industry knew that here was a man to be reckoned with. Thaniyavarthanam, his first screenplay filmed by Sibi Malayil is still a seething wound in the minds of Malayalis. This team went on to make more cinema that crushed our hearts and left us shattered. Those melodramas changed the way we experienced cinema until then.

Thanks to the justice Lohi always showed to his characters, some of the most memorable performances of our superstars, without which they would have hardly attained the stature they have today, came through his films. Mohanlal won his first national award through Bharatham penned by Lohi. However, my personal favourite of Lal-Lohi combination is Nandagopan from Kamaladalam.

Mind you, it is not just the superstars who were blessed by his pen. Nedumudi Venu in His Highness Abdullah, KPAC Lalitha in Amaram, Thilakan in Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, Bindu Panicker in Joker, Oduvil Unnikrishnan in Thoovalkkottaram are all fine examples that Lohi's characters, even if they are not the protagonists, are always well-etched and give a lot of scope to the actors. Another character that comes to my mind right now is the Muthachhan from Thoovalkkottaram played by Babu Swamy. I am incapable to think of another screenwriter who could have made such an inconsequential character look so important.

A few months before his untimely death, Lohi had opined that Malayalam cinema lacked a new generation of actors, and the existing ones are too old and overused. As much as he was a man of perfect words, he was also a man of action. When he turned a director, this is why he took the effort to find new faces who suited his characters than write stories for the establised actors who have minimum guarantee. Lakshmi Gopalaswami, Manya, Meera Jasmine, Bhama, Vinu Mohan - so many of them in that list apart from Manju Warrier and Samyuktha Varma who also got introduced through his screenplays.

Somehow, I am in awe for Lohi, the screenplay writer more than Lohi, the director. When he debuted as a director with Bhoothakkannadi, it seemed the most natural thing to do for a creatively mature writer. However, none of his directorial ventures struck a chord with the audience as much as his screenplays directed by Sibi, Bharathan or Satyan Anthikkad. And before he could prove this observation wrong, he left the silver screen forever, much like most of his films - leaving behind a lingering pain.

Any Malayali who has witnessed the late 80s and 90s of Malayalam cinema will know that his talent was of a different leagure altogether - one that can never be replaced with. And yet, this country never attested it with a National award. May be, the juries knew that this man never cared about anything except creating ripples with human emotions.

I am so glad my first dose of memorable films came from him. For all those unwritten screen poems by Lohi that left with him - Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.

Image Courtesy :

Friday, 26 June 2009

Middle Class Maniac - Me!

The characteristics attributed to middle classism are many. But I am dealing with only one right now. That’s regarding money, honey!!

I can recall umpteen incidents right from my school-going age until like day before yesterday when my friends labeled me ‘cheap,’ ‘stingy,’ and what not. All thanks to my nature of being extra cautious with money no matter which stage of life I was in – studying or working.

Take a sneak peak!

*I prefer bus to auto rickshaws. I developed a strong hate feeling for autos at Kottayam where they do not have meters unlike in bigger cities. Which means the driver’s word or price is the law and I cannot accept that. I always need a visible proof to the money that I am spending. Hyderabad autos of course have meters, but not all drivers turn them on. Some quote fancy prices and I walk away without even responding. At some other times, I bargain madly with the drivers to get a price that I think is fair. I might be doing this at the oddest time of the day (err, night) possible when another auto is not in the vicinity. Dangerous enough, huh? And then, there are buses that get you to your destination for 5 INR in the place of 50 INR in auto. So what if you have to walk 100m to get to the bus stop?

#And my friends go “But why? Why would you want to stand squeezed through a grueling experience with your face inside a smelly armpit?”

^But are they capable of comprehending the beauty of bus rides that let you enjoy a city from an elevated view? NO.

*I choose quantity over quality, especially with clothes. If you tell me I have a choice between four bright coloured simple cotton Kurtis from General Bazaar and one ultra elegant Biba Kurta from Hyderabad Central that costs more than all the other four put together, I will definitely go for the former.

#And my friends go “Thank God, everyone in this world is not like you. Otherwise there would not have been something called class.”

^But do they understand that having the variety of four colours and Kurtis is far more exciting than owning one single piece which you will soon be bored of? NO.

*Unless someone else who loves me a lot (read Achan) is booking the ticket, I always travel in sleeper class in Indian Railways. A three tier AC ticket in Sabari Express from Secunderabad to Kottayam costs 960 INR and in sleeper class it costs 400 INR. It is indeed a meager difference if you think about it. But when I think about it, I can save 500 INR and travel in the very same train and reach at the same time as the AC guys would. It’s not as if I live in a centrally air-conditioned home anyway.

#And my friend goes (not many know of this) “You are a freak.”

^But does he know that the view of nature and the feel of breeze compensates more than enough for the sweat particles you accumulate through the journey (as opposed to the sluggishness of oversleep that AC gives you)? NO.

*I hold the view that if friends go for a movie or dining together, everyone should share the expenses. This is even when it is a small group of two or three, even when it is a modest place where food/movie ticket does not cost much. In my roomie Richa’s words, I am a contri person (one who believes in contributing, apparently).

#And my friend goes “Yieeew! How can you be cheap enough to ask your friend for 40 bucks spent on French Fries?”

^But does she know of the glorious feeling that says ‘40 or 4000 does not matter, all my friends are equals.’ NO.

*I love the art of supermarket shopping and am a master at it. The mastery is over FMCG price watching. Let me explain. I take an article that is a potential buy, look at the packaging, check the price and net quantity, compare it with other brands on offer and decide which one is a better option. This also means that if Surf is available in a 450g pack (I hate the ‘non standard weight’ trick that companies have come up with to cheat consumers) and Ariel is available in, let’s say 650g packs, I actually stand there and do the math to find out the 50g price of each one. Sigh. Tedious, I know; but I do it nevertheless.

#Thank God, only I know this. :D

^But I myself know that this can be done only when I am shopping alone. Else, any person who potentially understands the calculations going on inside me could just murder me. YES.

I am sure you got a fair idea about the hard and fast middle class ideologies that I live by. Except one time, no comment from any friend has offended or hurt me (the exception obviously came from a girl friend in the quantity over quality instance). Guess why? I am proud of it, that’s why! I have grown up watching a simple living father and mother who pretty much led the same lifestyle when their salaries were in five digits and when it later turned to six digits. Achan still thinks it is a waste to spend more than a thousand rupees on a shirt. Amma still thinks there is no need to drive alone in a car and go to Kottayam town when she can ‘comfortably’ get into a ‘line’ bus and get back. Now, with such a set of parents, can I be any different?

This is not to say that I don’t have the greed to earn lots of money. My parents have never had that, but I do. I dream about a day when I have enough money to travel the globe and such other things. But when it comes to actually spending it, I think I will remain the middle class girl that I am and choose what is cheap. And you know what? I think I will still enjoy finer things of life. Which definition is not subjective anyway? My life, I define.

PS : The bit about Achan booking the ticket should not be misconstrued. That does not mean him paying for it. He pays anyways whether I book or he books. The point is when he books himself PHYSICALLY and I am not around, he makes sure I have some luxury. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Hunting in the dark or dreaming big?

In my dictionary, boredom appears quite close to depression. That is somewhat the frame of mind that I am in, right now.

To give some background information, I am currently at my second internship with iridiuminteractive.com at Hyderabad. I joined just ten days back and I am already seething in agony. The lovely people here have done nothing gross unto me. But an ounce of homesickness garnished with ample amount of boredom and loneliness do the trick. I spent my longest vacation at home in May – June 2009 after I left Kerala in 2006 for greener pastures (known by the name Google, back then). Seven weeks of absolute glory being the mademoiselle spoilt me. Its remnants are still somewhere inside contributing to the pain I mentioned above.

Then, there is an emptiness that has encapsulated my university. Many students are still there; it is just the MA lot that is missing. Most of my friends have also come back from home for their respective internships. However, it is just *dry.* I do not know how to describe it any better. A cloud of sorrow just pours down on me as soon as I get back from work. A frustratingly slow computer at work and the four-change-marathon-auto/bus journey to and fro don’t help a bit.

Amidst all this madness, I have been thinking a lot about what I shall be doing after my Masters. Since this is just a year away, may be ‘the thinking’ is a right thing to do. But I have discovered that I am hunting in the dark. You know why? Because I am absolutely clueless as to what I will do.

I always knew I wanted to do a Masters in Communication because it is a discipline that fascinated me with the creativity that it comes packed with. I cannot be happier that I am doing it now, and also, from the second best university in the country. However, what after that? Is it an option to become what 99.9% people ask me when they hear about my course? “So, you’re gonna be a.. journalist.. I guess?” Frankly, I don’t want to be. An ad-person? A PR specialist? A television producer? A communication academician? Options are so many; but I have an answer in none.

My basic issue is that I cannot get comfortable with the idea of doing one job for my entire life. I also hate the temporality of most jobs – the 9 – 6 tag irritates me. I am all for working when there is work to do. But when there isn’t, one should not force me to sit and stare at a computer until clock ticks 6pm. The mention of a computer reminds me that two and a quarter years at Google convinced me that I am incapable to work with computers five days a week, twelve months a year. My fingers and hands just do not co-operate. The callus on my right index finger that has rendered it useless and another one forming on the middle finger due to overuse with mouse, just say the same thing. Two months of internship have reaffirmed this to me and I know that my right hand hates me from the way it refuses to budge.

Basically, my freedom is extremely important for me. The freedom to decide one morning that I don’t feel like it to go anywhere. The freedom to go on an unplanned holiday to Hampi to relive some good memories. The freedom to watch YouTube video and browse blogs whenever. The freedom to know that I am financially secure in spite of any indulgences. Sounds really tough a dream to materialise, right?

I may be hunting in the dark. Or may be, I am dreaming big. Time will give me the answer. And I am waiting patiently.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Post Hatke!

Drum rolls! Here is the first guest post on my blog. It comes from a very dear friend who sweetly asked if I would be 'kind' enough to 'host' him. Being the nice person that I am, you would know what I said.

He is a bigger movie buff than I am, so it is befitting that he is doing a movie review here. Have a ball!

They are Gonna Hang me in the Mornin'..

Sreyas S S

3:10 to Yuma is the remake of a 1957 film of the same name. Both films are based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a rancher who is struggling to support his family and is mired in debt. The creditor threatens to take over his barn in a week if he doesn’t pay up. Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, leader of a notorious band of outlaws feared in the region for their ruthlessness. Ben Wade is cruel and evil. But they are not the only traits of his personality. He is intelligent, suave and practically oozes charm in every scene. He quotes from the bible at opportune moments during conversation and makes dainty pencil sketches of things that draw his attention. He also has a thing for women with green eyes. Crowe completely owns the role.

After robbing a stagecoach belonging to the railroad company, Ben Wade stops by at the town of Bisbee for a barmaid (Vinessa Shaw) he may have known from the past. It is there that he is caught by Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) of the railroad company and his men. Butterfield wants Wade to be handed over to the federal court in Yuma where he is certain to get a death sentence. For that they need to transport him to the town of Contention where they have to make him board the 3:10 train to Yuma. Evans volunteers to join the team that is going to escort the outlaw for $ 200. As the posse travels with their captive, they are constantly attacked by Ben’s gang led by the particularly vile Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). “I hate posses,” he says after shooting men overseeing tunnel work who also might be a posse.

Evans is the straight guy. He is just, fair and is bound to do what is right. What is at stake for him is more than the $ 200 that he is going to get for accomplishing the mission. His son William makes no bones of the fact that he doesn’t think much of his father. He is torn by the fact that he is not able to take care of his family. He is disturbed by the way his sons look at him and the way his wife (Gretchen Mol) doesn’t. In the scene in the hotel room which is arguably the best scene in the film, when the local marshals and finally even Butterfield walk out of the mission for fear of getting shot by Ben’s gang and others (as Prince makes an open offer of $ 200 to the town folk for every marshal or captor they shoot) waiting outside the hotel, Evans persists never once budging to the incredible odds at stake or to Wade’s offers of money for letting him go. When Butterfield tells him that he can have his $ 200 even if he doesn’t take Wade to the train, Evans realises that it’s no longer about the money or bringing a criminal to justice. Escorting Wade to the train becomes a chance to restore his pride and honour.

Ben Wade’s character is more complex. On one hand, he is a murderer with seemingly no remorse. He kills a guy because he taunted him in the night with a song. But for a man known to be so bad, he makes a few strange choices during the journey. Though they never openly admit it, there is a sense that the two men find something to admire in each other and even develop what maybe interpreted as respect. Russell Crowe gives a truly amazing performance bringing to life a character that has more layers to it than is visible on the surface.

At its heart, the film is a character study. And a great one at that. It deals with the ideas of honour, respect, pride and of course the ultimate question – what is good and what is bad or what is right and what is wrong. And none of this ever seems forced or contrived, it is so inherent in the plot. All this while captivating the viewer with a brilliant story that allows tension to build and build until it reaches a breathtaking crescendo. As the clock starts ticking towards 3:10, both Wade and Evans discover sides of their personality that they never thought existed or thought were long lost. I wouldn’t spoil the ending but it is so perfect and in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film that it made me feel that no other conclusion would have had the same effect.

Cinematography is awesome. Action sequences are done well with the cutting crisp and modern. The leads are supported by steady performances all round by the likes of Peter Fonda, who plays a bounty hunter with a score to settle against Wade, Alan Tudyk, who plays a doctor, Logan Lerman, who plays Evans’ elder son and Ben Foster who plays Charlie Prince, the second-in-command in Wade’s gang.

3:10 to Yuma is a brilliant film because it does one thing better than most films – tell a good story and tell it well. Not many films have left me so shaken and amazed, yet pleased and satisfied at the same time. ‘Nuff said.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Family Matters...

The last two days were fun because the whole family was together at one place - home! The randomness of Karakkonam, Pandalam, Changanacherry, Kottayam and Ernakulam took a leave for those two warm days.

Since Achan is leaving today for Dubai, he has left his work at Pandalam and is enjoying two days - exactly two days - of 'vacation' at home.

Akkachi, of course, has started going to college since the academic year has started. But she returns around 5pm. Ettan, since his transfer to Changanacherry from Cochin, reports back home much much earlier than before. Kids reach home the earliest, around 3pm. In fact, I am the last one to reach home everyday (around 6pm) after wrapping up my internship woes. Working during vacation, I tell you, is one of the few bad things of taking up a 'hands-on-work-experience-requiring course' like mine.

Oh yes, Amma! Without much persuasion, she decided to take an entire week off from her work. I had just suggested a Wednesday - Sunday, but she decided to make it a Sunday - Sunday. So she is full time at home like a homemaker. How nice! I think it is pretty amazing considering her obsession with work.

But when I think about it, it is not so nice. I mean, she is at home now, of course, by choice - just because Achan is leaving today and me on Saturday. She is no fish out of water or something. Yet I know that she is complete only when she is working. She enjoys her work that much.

There are times when, as a school girl, I used to miss my mother being a homemaker - or housewife - in less polished terms. Most of my friends had their 'housewife moms' to their disposal - to dress them up, to cook great food and wrap that up to make yummy tiffins. I don't know if I would have wanted her to dress me up, but i would definitely have liked more exotic items for lunch than the breakfast iddli/dosa. I frequently used to get irritated when she told in the evening, after returning from a full day of work, that she was going to check up on the Ladies Hostel that she was the warden of. Or even if she is at home, her burial inside a heap of examination papers waiting to be corrected would cause a frown on my face. Ditto with her temple visits on Saturday or Sunday mornings that were extremely long and make us have breakfast before she returned. Achan would tease her by saying Pujari had gone out handing the charges over to Amma, hence the delay.

But the major development about my growing up has been that I understand Amma much better today. I know that her dedication to work has helped thousands of students (without exaggeration, at the rate of hundred per year). Had she wasted her time packing tiffins for me, I would have had momentary satisfaction, yes. But what about the compromises she would have had to make with her work? May be, a delayed submission of corrected examination papers which would also mean a delayed publishing of results for about hundred students? May be a naughty girl who would con the watchman and escape the hostel gate? And may be, far less reverence and respect as a teacher and a human being than she has now earned. Right? I am so glad that she did not make that compromise then.

Amma and Achan probably hold the record of having attended the maximum weddings of their students. This continues even after they have retired. Mind you, it is just one indication of the love and affection she shares with her students. I cannot recall the number of students to whom she has been a mentor, local guardian and source of solace and love. All this and much more and yet attending to all the important things in the lives of Akkachi, me and Achan. That includes the month long leave she took for my SSLC exam.

It is funny how I have 'grown up' only in this aspect - understanding my mother. Nothing else has changed. My arrogance, anger, everything is in tact. I have petty fights even with Kunjunni (exactly 6.5 years old) because my emotional growth has stunned. In short, Akkachi has to deal with three intolerant kids at home, when I have a vacation.

Yesterday, when I was getting ready for work, Achan told me that we would be going for a family pic in the evening. That is one thing we do religiously from time to time. I would be normally very happy with the idea. But this time, somehow, I was not expecting it. I frowned because I was unprepared (read no waxing and threading done plus I am totally out of shape and do not want to be frozen into a frame at this point). Of course, Achan did not succumb and I silently agreed.

The photoshoot was illustrious. Different groups, different poses. And yes, the first colour coordinated one for the family! :) Yellow and brown was the theme. God knows how it will come out!

Then, a dinner together. A good film would have been a perfect finale, but there is none left to watch. :)

All these good times shall now remain as memories forever. And the next best thing to do is start expecting the next 'together' episode which might be during Achan's Shashtipoorthi celebrations in September.

And as they say, expectation is better than enjoyment. 'M loving it!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

My Award on Kerala Film Awards Day!

No phenomenal achievement, may be. But I felt really good and I thought I should share it with you.

Amidst all the Kerala state award declaration frenzy yesterday, an advisor to the Manorama Online team informed my supervisor that a senior Manorama journalist from Thiruvananthapuram conveyed appreciation for an article I wrote two days back. He mentioned the same with the least excitement possible, but of course, that does not stop me from getting excited. For him, it was the usual grind - someone said something is good. But for me, it was a huge - just the right impetus to mint out more stories like I have been doing for some days now. It came at a time when I had got used to the fact that I am in an environment where people hardly take the effort to say 'that's been good.'

Writing is clearly more tedious than I thought when it becomes your job. :)

With the risk of sounding narcissistic, let me break another news. Life has been really good to me for some time now. It can't be justified if I don't acknowledge that, right? My second semester results were announced last week, and guess what, I am the topper! I least expected to be, so I am doubly happy.

By the way, please excuse the fact that the prediction in this piece went all wrong. It is Lal and not Mohanlal who won in the end. Blame it on media speculations! Nevertheless, go on and read it for my sake. ;)

See the other film award related stories that I penned:

Nalam Vattam Adoor
Vilapangalkkappuram Santosham
Kozhikkodan Chirikkoru Samsthana Award
Bhagyam Kondu Vanna Thirakkatha
Abhinaya Praveenyathinu Veendum Puraskaram
Chinthippikkunna Cinema
Nanmayulla Cinemayude Niranja Vijayam

Monday, 1 June 2009

Colours of Kanchivaram

I have only faint memories of the movies that I watched during IFFK, last year. I had told you all, watching 35 movies back to back in just seven days can be quite tiresome. But Kanchivaram is an exception. My brain has captured this one movie crystal-clearly! The colours of Kanchivaram were that enthralling.

I am a fan of Priyadarshan movies from the 90s. But I lost my admiration for him when I watched a disaster called Vettom. And numerous other badly remade Malayalam movies in Hindi. But still, the name of this movie on the list of film screenings struck a chord with me, and I knew I wanted to go for it.

Kanchivaram is set in the legendary location where the renowned silk took its birth and from where it continues to unravel mysteries of beauty. Although the film is set against the backdrop of a growing communist philosophy, the basic thread of the movie is a very personal experience of the protagonist Venkadam (played by Prakash Raj). It talks movingly about the tragedy of a weaver who creates numerous expensive sarees for the affluent, but cannot afford one for his own daughter. However, he goes ahead and proclaims when his daughter Thamarai is born that he will get her married in a pattupudavai. The struggles that he goes through to materialise that word is Kanchivaram in a nutshell.

Prakash Raj's performance is picture-perfect. His bond with his daughter comes off so well on the screen; you cannot help feeling empathetic. Each time he called out "Thamarai," my heart went out to him. His helplessness at various moments through the film - when he loses his wife and becomes a single father, when he has to forgo his ideals and steal from work and when he finally loses his daughter for whom he struggled all his life - will definitely move anyone humane.

Shriya Reddy as the demure wife also deserves applause. That is so starkly different from the real person she is. Each other member of the cast, for that matter, is so apt for their character and has delivered a crisp performance.

The cinematography (Thiru), the art direction (Saby Cyril), and the music score (M G Sreekumar) contributes equally to the perfection of this masterpiece.

The narrative style that Priyadarshan has chosen reminded me of Maniratnam's Alaipayuthe. But the interweaving of past and present has been done just as beautifully as in a silk saree. You sit through the movie with just one picture in mind - Venkatam's daughter in that beautiful red bridal pattuchelai that he has been weaving. And when you realize that the journey was to end with him doing the final rites for her wrapped in that very same drape, your heart sinks. It is *flawless* storytelling, pure magic.

The movie encapsulates both the bright shades of silks made at Kanchivaram and the dull hues of the sorrowful lives of the weavers who make them. Priyadarshan deserves international recognition for this magnum opus of his. I am saying this with absolutely no partiality that he is a Malayali. It is just beacuse the movie is a sheer gem.