Posted in Pictures Desi

Review: Aruvi (Tamil)

Watched this mindblowing Tamil picture ‘Aruvi’ (waterfall). Only this Aruvi happened to be the name of a girl of 25 years. Brand new picture to hit the silver screen only in 2017. Very apt title because, that is how the character flows: at times bouncy and bubbly, at times listless and subdued. But Aruvi does make one hell of a sound: roaring sound. And the message is heard clear.

Debutante Aditi Balan plays the lead as Aruvi. The director Arun Prabhu Purushothaman’s debut venture couldn’t have been better. A  star is born. Two stars really. Incidentally, learned of the director and heroine from Wiki. Missed the titles and the opening scene. The director has unwittingly set a very high bar for his second project.

Kudos to the director once more and the producer for daring to produce a film without a hero. Our heroine is the hero of the film.

Secondly, rare to come across such a flipping script… back and forth, back and forth, frames from the present juxtaposed against frames from memories(past) weaving an interesting and complex story. A dozen or so scattered life events captured in snatches spin a beautiful yarn of solid story of a middle-class family girl. The way it is done is what makes it different. This is a hitherto unexplored technique. The flashbacks become something you look forward to for any idea on what is about to come. The mystery lingers for a while.

The online reviews describe the story as a socio-political drama and I guess I can borrow their words here. I can elaborate more but prefer to hold, unwilling to give away the plot. I am hardly the type to turn to the last page to read first like some do. Reviews I skim barely not to get prejudiced about a film (or even a book) before I get to watch (or read) it without a clue. It was while watching the picture, I wanted to grab some vital info that I decided to read reviews. Wanted to catch up with the opening scene.

The picture is also refreshing in that, we get to see a real Tamil girl (or probably Mallu) playing the lead instead of a light skinned north Indian star. I have no problem with a Hindi speaking dubbing artiste from Bollywood heartland cast in a Tamil picture but it is good (and probably relief) to hear free flow of Tamil from a local heroine for a change – who looks dusky or tanned like Tamil people!!! Tamannah or Samantha or whoever can hardly fit into urban Madarasi role!

Tamil cinema audience are not new to satires-sarcasms from magazines (Tuglaq of Cho’s times not now) to films, but Aruvi takes you to a whole new level. It is an unbelievable mix of satire, sarcasm, humour, despair, helplessness, compassion, inclusiveness everything. Three cheers to the director for exposing the sham that the media is. Everything revolves around TRP ratings these days. No scruples. The script does not judge characters. The forgiving and somewhat cynic attitude when it comes to the heroine is a breather. Aditi Balan has done proper justice to the character she has played, with her immaculately perfect dialogue delivery.  Tamil diction is too good. Absolutely no fancy costumes or make-up or any aggravated scene of violence or nonsense in the script. The heroine is like your girl next door. One can’t believe Aditi is a new comer. She has virtually lived the role and is reported to have shed some significant kilos before the final shoot for the closing scenes for a credible story line (with her emaciated looks).  The make-over is out of the world, scored without a foreign make-up artist (unlike our Kamal Hasan’s who may come very pricey). The supporting cast have done a remarkable job to make the picture wholesome and truly entertaining.

Rarely we get to see pictures of this genre. Every time I lose hope about Indian film industry, something like this crops up like a promise for future.

The current breed of Tamil directors is awesome. Their story-screenplay-dialogue seem to be realistic. Hopefully they don’t remain the ‘one-film-wonder’ or become the casualty of ‘early burn-out syndrome.’

Aruvi is reported to have been shot entirely in a digital camera to cut costs to bare minimum levels which is something like a world record! This is not internet news. This was snippet news in between ads in the tv. A commercial hit, which goes on to prove that good scripts will find takers any day. Aruvi is a trendsetter of sorts. A treat to watch, lagging not for a second. Not your normal range film yet with the fast pace manages to make a lasting impression on you. I wish I had watched the picture in cinemas. The effect would have been even better. Very low production costs, high entertainment value, women-centric, with NO MALE LEAD/HERO, convincing, compelling story without unnecessary ‘add-ons’  and tags … these could make Aruvi, a strong contender for both national and international film awards. The rare intriguing picture that made me double up rolling with guffaws one minute and weep quietly the next.

Highly recommended.

A class apart.

Posted in Pictures Desi

As She Was: Sri Devi

Sri Devi from my hometown Madras aka Chennai, starred in a Tamil picture for the first time when she was barely 4 years old.  From child artiste, she went on to become leading lady and superstar not only down south but also in Bollywood. Rather than remembering her for ‘Hawa hawaiii’ and ‘Chandni’ , this is what I will remember her always for:  Sri Devi from Tamil films. Can you believe this Sri Devi. Almost no make-up, no glam costumes, none of the farces like nose job… The innocence and dignity of character called Sri Devi. Unlike the diva who banished her true self into oblivion once she set foot in Bollywood. Every single picture of hers was epic. Tamil people mostly do not speak Hindi and know of only her Tamil pictures.  This list is not exhaustive. I have compiled whatever came to my mind.

This is my tribute to the legendary star who passed away last night in Dubai. Untimely death. I doubt whether even her daughters know  the other side of her the way the Tamil audience may.

However i do not underrate her tryst with Bollywood. Daughter of Chennai may be, but bahu of Mumbai. Bombay made her phenomenal, the first all India lady superstar that she was. If not for Bollywood, she would have remained a hidden jewel to the world.

This first number is from her debut picture opposite both Rajni Kanth and Kamal Hasan, directed by thespian director K Balachander. Sri Devi is 13 years in this film.

 

A crime story, Gayathri must have been a heavy subject to handle for 15 year Sri Devi with anti-hero Rajni Kanth but she managed it admirably well.

A cute Jolly Abraham song which was my pre-teen favourite.

 

Also a pre-teen favourite, this is a film where Sri plays village belle.

The landmark and award winning ’16 Vayathinile’ which went on to create 3 superheroes in Indian film industry: Sri Devi, Kamal Hasan and Rajni Kanth. Bharathi Raja became ace film director and Ilaya Raja became south India’s no.1 composer. Village story. Cannot see a classic like this until today, down to earth. A peek into rural Tamil Nad.

This song was a rare mistake of Sri Devi’s in Tamil films but it went on to become a runaway superhit with its catchy tune. I happened to watch the video only in You Tube and was relieved I only listened to this one in radio in my teenage:

Another award winning and thought provoking picture with director K Balachander who was belatedly awarded Dada Saheb Phalke award as if as an afterthought.

Award winning ‘Moondram Pirai’ which was dubbed into ‘Sadma’ in Hindi. My school screened a single film for us every year. That is how I got to watch this picture with my entire school gang in our school’s huge LV Hall, in the second floor. The dozens of lining doors were closed and the hall was darkened before the projector started running. Every time Cheenu (played by Kamal) called ‘Viji’ (Sri Devi character), my friends called me back ‘Viji’ a dozen times! It was also the first time I ever saw a picture with my school friends/friends without adult companionship/supervision. Unforgettable memories about the film. Every girl in my class remembers it even today therefore. Although we did not know then that the Balu Mahendra picture would forever take Sri Devi away from Madras, once it was dubbed into Hindi.

Beautiful melodies from Johny:

 

The cutest one and my all time favourite of Sri Devi. This was also my mother’s favourite (my mother passed away in 1982).

Vaazhve Maayam presented a stylish Sri Devi for the first time to Tamil audience. Sri Devi was changing.

 

 

Crime-Horror film like none other:

 

Priya: Sri Devi in her first foreign shoot in Singapore.

Another favourite of mine:

Posted in Pictures Desi

Review: Poorna (Hindi) and Talvar (Hindi)

 

Watched back to back two good Bollywood pictures in the 14 hour long flight from America. It is sad that good Hindi films never make it to the headlines and it is the scum (of Khans) that hogs the limelight. Both films seem to be the diagonally opposite: one was of the rural girl Poorna Malavath who made it big from small and miserable village life despite all odds; the other is the sad tale of the upper-middle class girl Aarushi Talwar whose young life was brutally snuffed out one unfortunate evening in Noida, suburban Delhi under mysterious circumstances. Rare for one to get to watch two contrasting stories like these one after another like I happened to, which made it possible for me to make a mental comparison between the two teenagers with hardly a couple of years’ age difference between them in actual life when they were catapulted into national news.  There was nothing common between them even if they’re both from India. Looks like they’re from two entirely different worlds. Each world had its own blessings and woes.

First one was, Poorna (Hindi) produced by Rahul Bose based on the real life story of Poorna Malavath from Nizamabad, Telengana who at the tender age of 13 years and 11 months became the youngest woman in the world to summit Mount Everest in the year 2014. Aditi Inamdar playing the lead as the naive village girl Poorna from Pakala, with Rahul Bose taking on the major supporting role as the Social Welfare Department official, the film is an inspiration in and out and is refreshingly original. Coming close on the heels of Aamir Khan’s Dangal (which probably was inspired by ‘Sala Khadoos”), the celluloid making of Poorna probably risked being labelled a stereotype, but the director-producer seems to have outguessed this, moving away the story line therefore from the predictable and beaten track to chart a different course altogether. Bureaucratic issues and red tape are part and parcel of Indian sports (like it is with any other arena). Untangling yourself from the muddle and raising your standard by itself is a feat, given the complexities that characterize Indian sport. Still, small town achievers have been outshining their urban counterparts in recent years led by none other than the ex skipper of Indian cricket Mahendra Singh Dhoni who hailed from Jharkhand himself.

But rural India is mired with its own socio-economic problems. Reeling under poverty and mounting debts, options are limited for the illiterate peasants who cannot afford a decent square meal a day for their families most of the times. Women of rural India are the hardest hit. Poorna’s cousin and friend Priya has child marriage and the same fate awaits Poorna herself (who is in middle school) that she escapes with determination and half-hearted consent from her dirt poor parents, but largely with the help of a very considerate social welfare officer Praveen Kumar (played by Rahul Bose) who is bent on reforming the education scene in the state. Together with Anand Kumar, another teenager, Poorna overcomes the initial hurdles and bests her own physical limitations to conquer the Everest and set a new world record. What happens however to Priya, the teenage mother who carries twins beyond her physical means is tragic. Post delivery, the minor girl develops jaundice to which she succumbs. A bright young life is wasted. A sad reflection on the state of affairs of rural India, 70 years after our independence from the British. Reality can be harsh in Indian villages where everyday life is a struggle. This an other real life story from ‘Poorna’ is an offshoot that aches your heart.

Poorna Malavath is a beacon of hope to rural girls in India who may think all doors are closed on them. She shows how you can succeed yet in adverse conditions if you are strong willed. May be all is not well with India but India is still a place you can flourish if you know how to tap resources effectively. All you may need is a little push and a bit of external help to knock on the right doors or pull the correct levers that may make things work for you. The civil services administration of India need to work in tandem with rural districts to tap the immense potential that this country has to offer.  Devoted and diligent civil services officers who can rekindle the dying hope may be the answers to our prayers, like  civil servant Praveen Kumar has shown with the success of Poorna Malavath.

Aarushi Talwar’s murder shook the Indian nation in 2008. I followed up the story like the rest of my compatriots because, if Aarushi could be alive today, she would be about my son’s age. Her parents Rajesh Talwar and Nupur Talwar were dentists and had a lucrative practice in Noida.

Both Poorna and Aarushi became recognizable names in India around the same age, for different reasons though.

Looks like Aarushi had everything going for her, given her background, unlike Poorna famished and impoverished hailing from one of India’s most backward districts. Aarushi attended the best school, had affluent parents, moved in a good social circle and was a popular and vibrant teenager unlike the shy Poorna. How could things have gone so wrong for her.

Media picked up Aarushi’s case and went for a toss for all the loopholes it presented. Over years, many theories were invented. On one hand, as a parent my heart went out to the Talwars who were demonized by the media. On the other hand, some found Nupur (Nutan played by Konkana Sen), the mother, very impassive to the camera as did seem her husband Rajesh. The grief was missing even if the distraught parents need not have to prove their love and affection for their only child to the world at large. So many pieces did not fit in the jigsaw puzzle as some questions raised about the Nepali men who were friends of the servant Hemraj remained unanswered. Why did the doctor couple have to have a male servant in their house when they had a single teenage daughter, however elderly the man could be. This was what I asked myself.

A friend who happened to read the book on Talwars was already a big champion for their cause. She argued, no parent could murder his/her own child however wayward the daughter/son might turn out to be. I couldn’t disagree with her.  In fact, the picture is based on the book. The best and logical step would be to disown the child. The Talwars did look rather composed given the nature of the tragedy that had befallen on their beloved angelic daughter. Still, honour killing is not for urban India. Probably the parents’ composure went with their profession and their elite social status. But their cool attitude also could have worked against them and turned the public conscience unfavourable. News hour debates were about the Talwars for weeks. The couple were indicted in the case a few years after the murder.

Finally in 2017, the parents of Aarushi, Rajesh and Nupur have been acquitted by the courts for lack of evidence. The picture ‘Talvar’ (sword) is a convenient pun where the Aarushi character goes by the name Shruti. Shruti Tandon. Daughter of Nutan and Ramesh Tandon. Talvar or sword, says the character of the outgoing CBI officer in the film, is held on the left hand of the blindfolded Lady Justice representing the Police department even as the right hand holds the scale of balance.  The investigation of a civil or criminal case therefore is as important in dispensation of justice as the neutrality of the legal counsels be it the prosecution or defense. In fact the tool of investigation (the cops) is vital and imperative to dispense accurate and impartial justice based on which even the legal counsels may build on their cases (in defense or against). So when the investigation is not thorough, it may lead to injustice or partial justice as the film Talvar powerfully and sequentially portrays.

Directed by Meghna Gulzar, the film is the real life story of Aarushi. Yes, it cannot be real life story of Aarushi because the story begins with her murder. The investigation takes its course in various angles played by Ashwin Kumar, a special officer on the case, played by Irfan Khan. Good research (by the scripted character) shows how sloppy the police department in India can be and how laggard we are when it comes to scientific theories and proofs. How carelessly the evidences are destroyed and how callous the public servants (cops in this case) could be that put the tragic parents even more into trauma. It doesn’t stop for the Talwars (Tandons) with finding their precious daughter bloody murdered. Not allowed to mourn their loss, they are dragged into relentless and cruel controversies by the media for TRP ratings and painted as vicious enough to kill their own daughter in cold blood.

The Aarushi case reminds one of the many John Grisham novels that dwell upon wrongful implications and unjust verdicts based on circumstantial evidences where the guilty go free and the guiltless get framed.

Hats off to the director for the convincing and scene-by-scene construction of the plot with strong and substantiated narratives. Grave slip by the cops. All it takes is common sense to see the truth. How easy it is to jump to conclusions carried away by jingoism and populism. The Talwars were accused only for the lack of evidence and any other angle. Honour Killing sounded sensational. The girl was not violated at least, thank god, but that heightened the mystery. The prime suspect Hemraj (Hempal in the picture) was also found murdered which complicated matters. Too many links were missing. The media never zeroed in on the other suspects in the case with the same gusto that they unleashed when it came to villainization of the Talwars.

All the time the character assassination of Aarushi as well as her parents was actively propagated by media cashing in on the sad episode. The nightmare the parents must have gone through. What right do the media have to pass judgement on a criminal case that was still in courts. How much prejudiced that may make out of the prosecutors, legal counsels and witnesses in the case. The harm done to Aarushi’s case by the media is awful. It preempted investigation into many potential and crucial leads that could have led to the murderer(s).

The film ‘Talvar’ was released in 2015 whereas the Talwars were cleared with acquittal only in 2017. The picture closed with the Talwars (Tandons) convicted. I hope the Talwars finally find peace. And I do hope the real killers of Aarushi are brought to justice (though of this I suppose there is least chance. Krishna (Kanhaiya in the film) must have fled India long ago).  Carelessness on part of responsible public servants can lead to gross miscarriage of justice. After what happened to their dear daughter Aarushi, it is a miracle that the Talwars are even sane. It is time to leave them alone finally to mourn their irreparable loss.  Still, thanks to the media, a section of Indians will continue to hold the Talwars guilty of murdering their daughter Aarushi. The damage the media does.

The pictures could be classic case studies on Indian girls/women from village and city since the turn of the century. The films offer a rare insight into rural India and urban India alternatively in different dimensions. One can’t help comparing even the poor peasant parents with the elites at the same time. One world is steeped in ignorance. Another brims with over-confidence. The unmistakable bold streak in the peasant woman contrasts quietly with masked naivety of the urban woman. After a long time, I had the satisfaction of watching meaningful Bollywood films that are brushed under the carpet by the big banner productions. It is sad, these good stories told are hardly commercially viable.