Funda on Fanah

Guest Blog 4 – Anand Chandrasekharan

Just like a book on Oprah’s list suddenly sees sales go through the roof, words used in a Rahman song suddenly come find themselves in vogue. Fanah may have come into popular conversation that way, but it actually has both spiritual and philosophical meaning in Islam.

One of the early Islamic writers (Ghazzali) used Fanah in the Ihya to refer to self-actualization, in a Buddhistic Nirvana Sense. In the state of Fanah, the individual loses the person in the temporal world. This kind of writing met with opposition from some interpreters, who claimed that such a moral world had never existed except in the Quran.

The general theme of the song, that love leads to a higher plane (a la Piravi pizhai, kadhal thirutham) resonates with Ghazzali’s writings, which says that an understanding and following of the Tawhidi in daily life, leads to the state of Fanah.

There you have it! When Vairamuthu says Yakkai thiri, Kadhal Sudar (My body the wick, your love the flame!), we know nothing can follow but Fanah!… It probably also explains why, this is one of those rare occasions when it’s hard to come up with a single word in Tamil which conveys the same meaning (and hence the Urdu word is re-used in the Tamil version).

Four Movies and a Weekend

1. The Last Samurai :

It was great to see Tom Cruise in this remarkable role of Captain Algren who is a plan less American soldier. His self-esteem and his sense of being a soldier gets him in-between two worlds which have their own philosophies. There lies perhaps his greatest challenge and this challenge is all about the battle of two completely different psychologies.

Tom Cruise gets two thumbs up for producing this saga of a samurai. Also he has disciplined himself for a role like this. He has managed to bring to life, the American soldier who is caught amidst two eras in Japan. This will be one of the milestones in his filmography after Mission Impossible. Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto brings to life, a true samurai hero. He manages to bring in facial expressions well to balance his character with fewer dialogues. The movie also talks about the Samurai culture and their strong way of life.

As the director Edward Zwick remarked in his interview, it was a time of transition. In every culture, that moment of change from the antique to the modern is especially poignant and dramatic. It is also wondrously visual. Each image, each landscape, each room tells the story, the juxtaposition of the old and new. A man in a bowler hat strolls beside a woman wearing a kimono. A man firing a repeating rifle faces a man wielding a sword.

However, the process of Tom Cruise getting mentally bent towards the Samurai is very detailed. Very dragging at times. A must watch for tom cruise fans and also others who love to watch inspirational stuff.

2. Udhaya :

This movie is from director coming from the camps of Mani Ratnam. Azhagam Perumal, the director of Dum Dum Dum and the latest Joot started this film as his first attempt. But before the film was out, it had various hiccups and that delayed the film’s release. The film was in production for more than 2-3 years which is evident from the looks of the stars getting changed from scene to scene. It’s a classic example of how a film fails in the box-office because of the timing of its release.

A R Rahman being the music director has done justice for the songs. Thiruvallikkenni Kaari gets a pat for AR Rahman.

Any day this movie will be on Ungal Sun TV. So watch it then.

3. Kill Bill :

I want to place my review of Kill Bill Vol 1 after watching Kill Bill Vol 2. Being a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino since his Pulp Fiction, I felt a little let down by looking at those blood fountains pumping out of those Japanese heads since they lacked the finesse and the creativity of Q.T. However it was more gore and violent than The Passion of the Christ. Actually both movies shouldn’t be compared for the violence. Passion of the Christ was more historical violence and Kill Bill was very fictional.

However, I’m inquisitive to watch The Bride take over Bill in Vol 2. Incidentally, I also developed a liking for Uma Thurman since her role as Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin. She is one hell of a female and she hasn’t got roles that matched her capabilities. I wish and hope Kill Bill Vol2 fills the gap. The reviews of Kill Bill Vol2 are out and they are promising and making me more curious. Let’s wait and watch on the big screen.

Co-incidentally I watched The Last Samurai and Kill Bill on consecutive days and it was a Japanese overdose for me 😉

4. Vaanam Vasappadum :

Will write a brief review on this. Read my pre-release note on Vaanam Vasappadum.

Social Influence in Media – Art or Science?

Guest Blog 3 – Anand Chandrasekharan

When I was in India recently, I heard about several younger actors aspiring to the title of Superstar. Having grown up in Tamilnadu, I know that is a title Rajnikanth has been holding on to for two decades. The aspirants have several things going for them, and have created varying degrees of influence and acceptance among the public and in the industry.

One of the best books I have read, Robert Cialdini‘s Influence, came to mind immediately. It presents social influence not as an art but as a science – a combination of six simple human psychological tendencies, based on years of experiments that provide insights into consumer behavior.

No better industry to apply it to than to media – one where careers are made or broken based on consumer whims and social acceptance by the public. It’s hard to think of many artists who have been successful without one or more of these techniques working for them subconsciously. The six techniques and some garnishing in terms of who it may have worked for (or not) are:

1. RECIPROCITY: People generally tend to respond to a small favor with a larger one. Rajnikanth is a good example of an actor for whom the reciprocity factor and his direct relationship with his fans and the public has worked wonders. In addition to making it work for him, he has also shown what a powerful factor of influence it can be.

2. COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY: People tend to believe in something and do everything they can to stick to it. For instance, Hollywood actor Jim Carrey fell flat on his face as a serious actor because the public wanted to stay true to their long standing belief that he was only a comedy actor. This type of pigeon-holing does not help an artiste’s cause, and artistes trying to reinvent themselves have to take the commitment and consistency factor very seriously.

3. SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE: People tend to accept things they believe their peers have accepted. Artistes who have benefited from this factor include directors Mani Ratnam and Shankar. This factor has also worked well for Steven Spielberg. Their universal themes that resonate with people’s daily lives and their ability to consistently appeal to the public with their stories have rightfully earned them the social acceptance they have today.

4. LIKING: People tend to be swayed by people they like. Traditionally, MGR has benefited immensely from this trend as has NT Rama Rao. Audiences in Andhra apparently still identify Lord Krishna with characterizations by NTR during his acting days. Shah Rukh Khan in Bollywood and Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp have all had this factor work to their advantage.

5. AUTHORITY: People tend to respect people who have been perceived as leaders or figures of authority in their chosen fields. The Passion of the Christ and The Lord of the Rings are two recent films that have benefited from positioning themselves as the authority in portraying themes that people already have intense emotional connection with (the last hours of Christ, JRR Tolkien’s trilogy). Amitabh Bachchan (father figure of Bollywood), Aamir Khan (perfectionist with intense focus on his roles), Shekhar Kapur (unique understanding of the trends behind Asian entertainment) and Charlie Kauffman (a unique ability to delve into the working of the human mind) are some of the many artists who have made this factor work for them, leading the public to trust them immensely.

6. SCARCITY: People tend to take whatever is scarce seriously. Good cinema is scarce and Kamal Hasan has made his career from consistently taking risks to deliver new roles, try new things and in the process raise the standards that audiences use to rate good cinema in the South. Needless to say, there are quite a few examples of such artistes in the west – Rowan Atkinson and Woody Allen being two examples that come to mind. Another angle to this factor is overexposure, something that has not served artistes well unless done in combination with the reciprocation factor in mind.

Comments and other examples of how these factors have worked in the industry are obviously welcome!

Let music bring in communal harmony

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

Rabindranath Tagore in Nobel Prize winning Geethanjali

What if all the artists, not just the cine artists, but all kinds of performance artists join hands and vouch against communal violence. Well, You can witness that tomorrow(5:30) in Wesley Grounds, Royapettah, Chennai.

With a tamil slogan Veruppin Veppathai Thanikka Kai Serungal, People’s Union of Civil Liberties has arranged for a celebration of communal harmony. The celebration will have artists from all sorts like painters, poets, rock bands, carnatic musicians, cine music directors and ofcourse kollywood artists who will vouch for communal harmony in their own ways of expression.

What’s appreciable is that, such acts of kind gestures are supported by ever-busy-never-free cine artists. From Usha Uthup to Sudha Raghunathan, from Harris Jayaraj to 4 rock bands of Chennai, from Director Vasanth to Kushboo, from SPB to Kamalhassan himself will make the show a delightful event.

Rabindranth Tagore’s Mind Without Fear will be the song of the event. It has been translated into tamil and the honey-sweet SPB has recorded this song with his own voice. PUCL has also a demand to make this Mind Without Fear as the national anthem instead of Jana Gana Mana for Jana Gana Mana talks just about the geography of India whereas Mind Without Fear dwelves into the mind of an Indian.

The artists will start their painting from morning and the audience will be allowed to appreciate them during the show. One of the biggest highlights is the performance of Koothu Pattarai. Also four of Chennai Rock bands have joined together to come-up with a united effort of rock music ‘n’ communal harmony.

Every show has a climax. So this show will have Kamalhassan read out a vow for communal harmony which will be taken by the audience. I’m personally happy about the way in which the show is organised. The reason behind the show is very very genuine for we are in a country where communal violence has been offlate dancing, Rudrathandavam. Agree ?

Gilli Movie Review – Dharani On Top

We clap, laugh and adore Vijay as he takes over his contemporaries in the race to super-stardom. Gilli portrays a Vijay as a comic hero who battles his villains logically while his physical powers are exaggerated dramatically. Having said that Gilli offers nothing less than sheer entertainment and an edgy thriller for the Tamil film industry which is deprived of such films.

Dharani‘s magic has worked third time. This time he has reached the way to the top gracefully and is sure to remain there for sometime. From Dhill to Gilli, dharani’s journey has been calculated, planned and executed with discipline. Gilli is certainly not a yet-another-telugu-remake of Okkadu. Gilli’s incidental story is not a man’s saga or epic tale. But its production values and entertainment mix has taken the movie to high scales.

It talks about an angry, young and brave Chennaite’s slice of life. Gilli Vijay’s naive bravery earns him the animosity of Prakashraj, a local dada, who chases him and Trisha from Madurai and tries to get him killed. This and the following course of incidents form the crux of the movie. While the movie details the chase of Prakash Raj / Vijay, it also branches out to explain the kabadi aspirations of Vijay and what the aspiration leads to.

The movie starts with a top gear and doesn’t stop until the end of first half. With the movie oscillating between Chennai and Madurai, it finally comes back to Chennai in the second half and settles. After Vijay reaching Madurai for a Kabadi match after the first hour of the movie, the movie gears up. From then on to the intermission, the story itself is told with the help of action. It is one of the very few movies where action itself carries the story forward. Especially the car chase is one of the best action packed chases seen in Tamil cinema. With Vijay pushed to a situation to take Trisha as hostage and help himself out of the clutches of Prakash Raj displays Dharani’s effort make the viewers say WOW. If you want a complete helluva Gilli trip, don’t miss this sequence.

The second half slows down to unfold the story, romance and other commercial elements. But at the same time, Dharani has worked hard to keep the movie going with the songs and the chase, chasing one another. In this nail biting thriller, the comedy and songs form a vent to the tension. The climax with Vinayak Chathurthi processions and the Kabadi match proves the planning and the hard work of the entire crew.

Vijay with his reduced make-up and his Chennai slang personifies the yester year Rajinikanth. His facial expressions and his comical sense make us re-collect the superstar himself. If that is position which Vijay aims to reach in the near future, this is his giant step towards that. Vijay shoulders most of the movie on himself like his previous flicks and carries the movie with a charming style. He also handles the comedy dept for himself while giving a slice of it to Dhamu (Nari). Vijay has also done appreciably well in action sequences which is the heart of the movie. His dialogue delivery skills have improved over the time and here in Gilli, he presents the contemporary Chennai youth.

Trisha looks classy but her role gets reduced to a Barbie doll. Trisha’s costumes in Appidi Podu song look dazzling. Three Cheers to Nalini Sriram, her costume designer. Also Jennifer who enacts the sister of Vijay has done extremely well and one would think they could have given the same importance of the sister role to Trisha also.

The best part that happened to Gilli is Prakash Raj. His comeback after a long time is glaringly well executed. His role as Muthu Pandi suits him well. Prakash Raj and Kamalhassan may not have anything in common but this kingpin-cum-dada Muthupandi role reminds me some shades of Virumandi. Prakash Raj dazzles when he looks at Trisha with an idiosyncratic look and says Chellamey !! I…Love you da!

Vidhyasagar‘s uses the same Dhool formula here too. All songs call for huge crowds and every song has a celebrative mood. However, the night skied Chennai sets and Kokkarakko songs stays tight. It has a very strange feel and is sung well. Appidi Podu song has been picturised and tuned well. It is a special song to get the audience ready for the climax. However the song Yaaro Yarivano during sumo chase reminds us of Kakkha Kakkha but it does the job.

Maniraj’s sets of the Triplicane area is amazing. Only if you get a producer like A M Ratnam, you can think of such a huge spending for a set. But Dharani has used the set well and it finds a place in most songs and important sequences. Combined with the sets, Gopinath’s camera and avid editing races the movie throughout. The action sequences speak of the advanced technical wizardry that Tamil cinema is going through. Rocky Rajesh – the stunt director, Gopinath – the cinematographer and VT Vijayan – the editor gets a mention for the fabulous action sequences. Aalavandan boasted of Hollywood-like action sequence but Gilli, silently grabs away the title.

This movie would be a hit for the kind of team effort Dharani has roped in. Also his brilliant screenplay has made the movie one very fast without too much flaws. Dharani also doesn’t bother too much to give a finger to the logic. Combined with his intelligent story telling skills Dharani also gets a mention for the changes that he has made to the Tamil version of Okkadu which makes the movie adapt to the Tamil tastes.

Gilli is a movie to be watched in a theatre to enjoy the movie thoroughly. This movie will be a sure shot hit, not just for its entertainment and production values but for the incredible understanding of delivering what people want. And that’s exactly what we want.

Guest Blog – Abirami A

Here’s a blog note from Abirami who currently lives in London. She had written a mail to me about her experience of running the London Marathon. I liked it and I hope you would do the same. email her at Sakeths[at]aol[dot]com.

Hi,
I’m a 31-year old mum, a former Chennai-vasi. I’ve visited your site a few times and found it quite interesting. The reason I’m writing to you is that I ran and completed the London Marathon yesterday. Being so far away and having few relatives and fewer friends, I’m really short of people I can share my excitement with. Hence this mail. Anyway, here’s a little piece I wrote upon waking up this morning and I’m thrilled to share my experience with you.
thanks!
-Abhirami A

Read moreGuest Blog – Abirami A

Guest Blog 2 – Anand Chandrasekharan

Satrangi…Only You… now Fanah!

The fact that AR Rahman has sold a cumulative 20 million plus records is common knowledge. The fact that (together with Sachin and Bachchan) Rahman now carries the India brand on his shoulders is something we all have come to be proud of. But the fact the occasional song from his stable is nothing but divinely inspired is not well recognized.

Dilip Kumar became AR Rahman after much family tragedy. And that pain and the metaphysical effects that severe loss and tragedy brings is reflected in his music – and in a way that the audience is able to relate to.

Depending on whether or not one counts Thee Thee from Thiruda Thiruda,
Satrangi (in Dil Se) was one of the first songs that carried a clear Sufi bent, combined with enchantingly metaphysical lyrics (seven layers of being et al). Then came Only You in Vande Mataram, which was dedicated to the Sufi saint who became Rahman’s support during their tough times.

And now, Fanah! Notwithstanding a techno beginning in the first 30 seconds, this song could only have been inspired from sources not easily traceable in our daily lives (birds, sunshine, a face)… the last 30 seconds almost seem taken directly from a pain, from a suffering.

Another common thread in these songs is the separation from lyrics, the separation from rhythm in the last parts and the outpouring of music almost in an unadulterated form.

There is little doubt that ARR swims in worlds out of our own to come up with these occasional pieces. Come May 21, India will swim in an ocean of Fanah!

Guest Blog 1 – Anand Chandrasekharan

Anand Chandrasekharan, my friend who like me, is a geek, graduated from Stanford, and works at a wireless company he started in Silicon Valley, and is involved with Deeshaa a rural India focussed initiative. He is now in India. Listening to Aayitha Ezhuthu music, he was impressed and wanted to write a note on Vairamuthu’s genius in Aayitha Ezhuthu. Here it is. You can contact him at write2ak[at]stanford[dot]edu. Thanks Anand and I wish you to write many more such brilliant observations here.

Vairamuthu’s magAKK!
Multi-lingual movies, with their other challenges also bring with them the undeniable challenge of songwriting. With Rahman and other music directors making waves in multiple languages, one can’t help but compare the quality of lyrics in the hindi and the tamil versions of the same film.

Why this rant? Because of Mani Ratnam’s Yuva/Aayitha Ezhithu music release. Among other lyrical masterpieces by Vairamuthu, one line that stands out is “Kann Thondri Kann Kaana Kanneero” (Is this a tear that is out, yet unseen?) in the song Hey, Goodbye Nanba!

The movie itself is about identity. The letter AKK, which in Tamil can only be used in conjunction with another letter to convey any meaning; the three lead characters, who all come with different ideals and then learn from the other perspectives to define their own identity. Vairamuthu captures the essense of this dilemma concisely (in only 3 words) and yet leaves the listener with so many questions – Is the tear there? Is it gone? Is the sorrow still left after the tear is gone? Much as one hopes Aayitha Ezhuthu will leave the audience wondering about the identity of today’s youth.

One can’t help but sigh at the genius of Vairamuthu (not that that needed any mention), and at the same time compare it with the bland “Begana Begana” in the Hindi Version of the same song.

Kangalaal Kaithu Sei

Bharathiraja’s Kangalaal Kaithu Sei was a big disappontment. Given Bharathiraja’s earlier thrillers like Sigappu Rojakkal, Tik Tik Tik and Captain Magal, this movie wasn’t even close to any of them. First of all, this cannot be even called a thriller. Cause there was nothing in the movie to be thrilled about.

B.Raja still loves to remain in 80s where he was the master of the game. I was majorly disappointed because of the splendid trailer that they etched out for this movie. The promos were classy and called for the best movie making capabilities. But unfortunately the movie was loosely connected with the story. Also we have no clue as to how the hero manages to steal the diamond.

The major let down was the characterizations. In this millenium, a enthusiastic young business man who actively screws up a reporter who asks a stupid question, behaves like a jamindaar in his house. The way in which the hero communicates with his hand to his servants is irritating and looks like S V Rangarao types.

A R Rahman has worked really hard to bring out some really good numbers. Aha Thamizhamma and Azhagiya Cindrella song stays in hearts. I loved the audio of Anarkali song which has some amazing tabla music. But the picturisation was bad with the heroine dressed in Anarkali costumes runs in the sea shore all along the song. Sujatha‘s dialogues just shine in few places.Also the editing which is synonymous to Alaigal Oyivathillai times is very disturbing the pace of the movie.

Priyamani, the heroine looks nice and I hope she would do well in her next movie with Balu Mahendra and Dhanush called Athu Oru Kanaakkaalam. In KKS, She was left with no scope to act. Being compared with the cindrella doll, she behaves just like a doll. Mudhal Mariyadhai is one Bharathiraja’s best film ever. I only hope he can still films like that, which can stand over time.

Are u thinking that I am still puzzled how the hero was able to steal the diamond. Never mind I didn’t understand the rest of the movie also.

Re-visiting Shankar's Boys

After all that media screw-up, Shankar’s Boys went into the boxes with the same speed. The same Sun Tv which gave a very bad rating for this movie broadcasted Boys yesterday (without major cuts) as a part of Tamil New Year’s Day celebration (?!!). Atleast by doing it Sun TV joins the group of Boys supporters.

Now that the rest of hypocritical public who refused to meet the Boys in theatres had a chance to see the movie on their televisions. And, probably now they would understand that Boys was just a reflection of the existing teenage world and not some out-of-the-world issue. I hope they would have cursed the media enough, for being biased with Boys and sabotaging the film’s box office.

The audio was cut whenever the boys uttered the OTMP word. I am unable to understand why this was done. I can only laugh loudly at the judgemental skills of censoring.

In such a case, why should hollywood films in India be censored only for erotic scenes. They can also censor the audio like they did for Boys. And if only they do it, films like Phone Booth will be audioless and we, clueless. Let’s pray god that this doesn’t happen, at all.