Posted in Pictures Desi

Review: 96 (Tamil)

Some great low budget but delightfully watchable Tamil flicks that are running to packed houses, this season:

Checka Chivandha Vaanam (reddish red sky)

96

Paraiyerum Perumal

Merku Thodarchi Malai (western ghats)

Immaikka Nodigal (the seconds that did not tick)

U Turn

No hyped Diwali release. No school summer vacation.  No big banners either. No superheroes. The one big name is Mani Ratnam (Checka Chivandha Vaanam). Others like Vijay Sethupathi, Sashi Kumar etc., are still legends in the making – outstanding unconventional heroes cum directors. With Siva Karthikeyan, the two truly make up the winning formula for Tamil cinema. Add to them Prasanna and Siddharth and Madhavan (although the latter two share their time with Bollywood). Thanks to these new age heroes, one is taken back to K Balanchander’s times of 1970s (though I was a pre-teen then), when Tamil cinema was all about substance.

For, the strength of Tamil cinema lies in storytelling and wonderful characterization. Story-screenplay-dialogue. Dusky heroes and heroines of native skin script a realistic stage setting for the plots to unfold. Witty and satirist, the films are a fine and hitherto unexplored ground in Indian screen. There have been some in recent past like Jigarthanda, Kidari, Bale Velaiyatheva etc., which were a new genre moving away from outright Kamal Hasan humours like Pammal K Sambandam and Pancha Tantram. Now humour seems to be interwoven in the story. Screenplay-direction merits a thunderous applause. Highlight is, low budget but good content. Commercial success! (Although one cannot underestimate Kamal Hasan socials like Virumaandi or Devar Magan (re-made as Virasat in Hindi starring Anil Kapoor). Only that, what is trending is good, better! A different kind of story telling, a new dimension, a fresh perspective, fascinating imagination.

There have been a couple of ground-breakers like Aruvi (on TRP the television rating points system that drives the media), Kalyana Samayal Saadham (on male impotence) and OK Kanmani (on live-in relationships) (Mani Ratnam), but Thiruttu Payale 2 (the rascal 2) starring Prasanna and Bobby Simha was a tech nail-biter to the finish. Robot (Shankar) with Rajni Kanth could have been the ultimate tech production (with 2.0 trailer now played in cinemas – Diwali release?), but Thiruttu Payale was like math assignment or video game.

Except for U Turn and Chekka Chivandha Vaanam that are racy thrillers, the recent most crop are slow paced (not yet watched all) one believes.

96 Stands out as urban chick yet relaxing like a calm ocean. This is my second Vijay Sethupathi film, first being ‘Rummy’ in tv popular for its number ‘kooda mela kooda vechu.’ One word to describe Vijay is ‘yadhaartham.’ With this he (as well as Sashi Kumar and the tribe) move away from the league of Kamal Hasan, Rajnikanth, Ajith and Vijay who are icons in the film industry mostly thanks to their histrionics (Vikram and Surya only slightly better).

96 is a breather as it flows without a ripple, soothing and unmarred by violence or vulgarity. NO CONFLICT IN THE PICTURE, NO AGITATION OF THE MIND. Over estimation has cost those like Kamal Hasan dearer as we see already with his junk called ‘Vishwaroopam’ series. Sometimes, the pros bite the dust and it takes fresh talent to take the lead. A very neat and easy and uncomplicated script is a huge plus for 96. Trisha is elegant as ever as Janu and Vijay Sethupathi is ‘yadhaartham’ personified. Together they strike an odd but interesting pair. As the drama is day-to-day life of the current Whatsapp generation, it is naturally a runaway hit in both urban and rural centers.

96 reminds me of our school batch 86 (84-86 board batch, 84 – 10th standard and 86 12th standard boards). Only, our school was all-girls school! Reunions are happening ever since Facebook got us connected to our long lost friends.  Intelligent of the director to cash in on a contemporary phenomenon.

The subject treated with a delicate direction, kudos! Male virgin at 37 is not strange in Indian/Hindu society. Coming in the heels of Sabarimala, as someone caught between the two worlds of modernity and traditions, I do not know how to react to this in present times. Is it naive of the hero Ram played by Vijay Sethupathi or is this characteristic is what defines the society we live in. Surprisingly, the same India is now hitting headlines in global media for rapes. My nation is a land of contradictions. To come to grips with our inherent nature is our greatest challenge.

Watching 96 was like reading a Mills & Boon paperback to me – used to finish one book per day in back bench in school days. Addicted to TDH – the tall, dark, handsome heroes of M & B women authors! 96 though sees a reversal of roles. Janu (Trisha) is the leading lady – who takes the charge!

Rerecording by Ilayaraja, a musical treat to ears. Unobtrusive (demanded by script of course) unlike today’s loud and brash BGM these days typical with AR Rahman’s.

The review will be incomplete without a mention on budget: only 1 set of clothes for Trisha mostly (total 3), a plain kurta-dupatta suit. Four local locations in all: a hotel in Chennai (Accord), a flat in uptown apartment block in the city, a resort in ECR (East coast road), some traffic scenes/airport/underground Chennai metro rail. Other than that, some shots are filmed in Tanjore streets and a local temple with a distant view of the millennia old Brahadeshwara. Most Tanjore picturization is within the four walls of a matric school. Trying to figure out the budget cost ever since, especially against the super-duper big time bombers like Vishwaroopam! No glamour content, no comedian track, no melodrama, no fist fight or use of abusive language or double meaning dialogue. Touches a chord without making you emotional. Simply beautiful and as I said, ‘yadhaartham.’ Reminds one of ‘Dil ek mandir’ from 1950-60s, made within four hospital walls which was later remade in Tamil as ‘Nenjil or aalayam.’

The after-taste of cinema must be the ‘feel good’ factor. Felt good going to sleep on 96. Fell headlong into a deep and dreamless slumber late last evening, with a smile on my lips even if the film ended on a heavy note. The characters have my respect!

 

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