Sep 12, 2017

Zombie on the back

[Img Src: Sify]
Thoroughly enjoyed the movie 'Vikram Vedha.' I love movies that work on many levels, that are well polished indicative of the hard work that has gone in, and lastly, that are sheer fun.  VV was one such movie. I didn't care too much for the opening animation, but other than that minor peeve, I was so charmed that I came away thinking the movie was near flawless.

It's a straight up shoot-em-up that in the beginning seems almost uncaring about the body count. But the intelligent screenplay slowly and surely unravels the many threads that bind the protagonists, leaving the viewer with a very satisfactory ending.

Movies that deal with shades of gray, that portray the human side of the 'villains' and the not so human side of 'heroes' are not novel. Starting in the eighties, we have had many movies that make heroes out of gangsters, stalkers, con-men and so on. Clearly, VV is at one level inspired by many of the classics in the genre. I could easily spot the 'Blacklist' influence not just in the scene that introduces Vedha to us, but also in the way the character influences Vikram.  What elevates this movie though, in my opinion, is the brilliant reinterpretation of the age-old Vikram and Betal encounter.

The familiar beginning of each installment of the Vikram series that I read is so etched in my brain. 'Vikram not losing heart, brought the Betal down from the tree and started yet again.' The series can primarily be viewed as a set of puzzles that clever Vikram solves, and through the solutions, gives some sort of a moral guidance. The last story, which Vikram purportedly fails to solve is not necessarily perplexing in the context of human behavior and seems more about semantics.

This movie uses a different prism to view the series. Vikram, the King, through the series is sure of his answers; he is not just clever, he also has an uncanny clarity of what is right and wrong. In the movie too, when the first 'story' is told by Vedha, Vikram, the cop, is not particularly confounded. He answers quickly and quite reasonably about what he believes is right. Unlike the original Betal, this Vedha ups the ante as the movie progresses, bringing more complex problems to Vikram where ultimately he is transformed. I think the original Vikram might have felt cheated, that the Betal tricked him with a not so complex moral problem. And with that, he could have still been unshaken in his core stance, a black and white stance where he continues to be able to pronounce judgments without dilemma. Where there is ultimately one right answer, where he didn't have to agonize or regret a decision. But the modern Vikram, who starts off determinative, is exposed to stories and questions and ultimately betrayal that presents him with a problem where judgment is not so easy. I loved the ending. One more shot and it'd have ruined the movie for me. The two protagonists laugh in the end and in their laughter is unease, an acknowledgment, and growth.

I must also mention the camera. With its aerial shots, the camera loves the housing colonies, making the metropolis part of the puzzle. Also effectively countering the claustrophobic actions that happen mostly inside houses and warehouses. The camera angles pull you into the narrative by pausing on seemingly unsuspecting bystanders, by rushing along with the children, and by being still in dramatic moments.

Full marks for not reducing the women to complete cardboard figures in what is ultimately Vikram and Vedha's story. Also, for not overdoing it.

Both Madhavan and (unsurprisingly) Vijay Sethupathi have done commendable jobs with their subtle performances. There are several scenes where they have to give clues to the audience of what's coming, without necessarily doing so to the other characters on-screen. The opening sequence when Madhavan notices the trembling hand of his friend and the scene where Vijay Sethupathi swallows his sorrow before asking why Madhavan shot that man are cases in point. Vijay Sethupathi portrays his love for his brother in a mellow, subtle manner that is as always impressive.

I would have been happier if the songs had ended in the editing table. All in all, absolutely worth watching.

I also watched Bahubali. After doing some prep in terms of dismantling some parts of my brain I enjoyed part II. Part I required complete disassembly.

Jul 9, 2017

Day trip

[Img Src:Wikimedia/Aravind Sivaraj]
Did a quick day trip to Chennai. Got up early to catch the morning plane ride after sleeping fitfully [so what's new]. On the way to the airport, saw an army of bikers. Their bikes, serious looking machines, parked by the road, they seemed like they were out of the pages of 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.' There were folks on their bicycles too, pedaling effortlessly looking the epitome of health and wellness. Last time I rode a bicycle was to school and have never even come close to riding a bike. Naturally, I spent the next twenty minutes staring wistfully outside and daydreaming. [In case you are interested, the dream involved me biking along legendary train trails and famous rivers. As you can see I am quite imaginative even when I daydream].

Chennai was warmer than I expected. Spent the morning near Armenian Street [hilariously translated to 'Aranmanikkara theru']. Still hopeful, I looked for Ganesh and Vasanth in Thambuchetty Street. After a leisurely lunch attended a Barathanatyam recital. The chief guest asked the young person on the reception committee where her 'pottu' was. The appropriateness of the dress code, down to the 'pottu,' to an occasion is a slippery slope. A judgment call one has to make on a case by case basis considering convenience, aesthetics, feeling good, and principles. Clad in my cotton saree, with the 'pottu' of course, I mused on the subject. Clad in his blue jeans and shirt, SR scoffed at my 'over-analysis'.

Didn't get to go for a walk on the beach. The view from the plane was adequate for the time being. 

May 24, 2017

Welcome Monsoon

[Img Src : Wikipedia]
There is welcome news about an early and better monsoon this year. Last few days we have been getting our evening showers in Bangalore. Despite the infrastructure woes, I usually find myself happy when it rains. Uprooted trees and this news item about parakeets dampened my spirits considerably this morning though.

I had thought to refrain from commenting on the much-ridiculed 'experiment' involving evaporation and Thermocol from some weeks ago.  This was despite having to go through a lot of ribbing from friends owing to the incident happening near my hometown. There actually are some experiments proving that Thermacol [which is a trade name apparently] do inhibit evaporation to a small extent. Needless to say, the execution at Vaigai dam was ill-thought, to put it mildly. It's a classic display of shoddy [the sheets looked like some ten-year-olds stuck them together], careless [ no notice of the wind patterns and the surface area involved], and half-baked [even if it had stayed put where they going to measure the results in some way] execution that one often encounters. Rigor doesn't seem to come naturally to us.  I wondered why the minister personally was there. If not for the fiasco, I suppose it'd have made it easy for accounting later.

But I could understand the desperation behind the action. The part that I have retained the most from my short-lived farming days is the worry and urgency with which we tried various methods to harvest water.  Until then I had not been so painfully conscious of the amount of rainfall in a particular place and time. Rain until then was associated with romance, not returns.

We looked to cut water channels, I became aware of the wonderful world of mulches, we dug ditches and measured the amount of rainfall year after year often with growing gloom. In one interesting attempt, I remember we recycled used cement bags by placing them on the ground of the water harvest pond [ditch?] to slow down seepage. Neighboring farms went all out and covered their ditches with gleaming black tarp sheets.

Some of the residual emotions from that experience did come through in my second novel. The outsider view of Josh unexpectedly coming up close to the plights of farmers was inspired to some extent by personal experience. I too got burnished a bit from my exposure to farming.

Here's to a good monsoon.

May 9, 2017

Alagar at Vaigai

[Img Src: Maduraicity] 
Chitirai festival, said to be a four-hundred-year-old tradition,  celebrated for close to a month in my hometown comes to a finish today with Alagar arriving at the river Vaigai. [Okay technically not a finish, but practically is].

Our family lived in the suburbs - 'suburb' is perhaps too fancy. The total perimeter of the city was probably only 5 kilometers in those days and we were barely a couple of kilometers from the city center. We did visit the famous Meenakshi temple from time to time but we mostly celebrated the Chitirai festival at home but for brief visits during the early days of the festival. Still, being part of it just once is enough to make it unforgettable.

The 'Ther' procession, for example, with its huge wooden carriage,  the layered cloth canopies in pink and green rolling majestically down the Masi street is a sight to behold. My memories are not vivid and are a blur, mainly because of the awe-inspiring nature of the moment itself, I think. First the crowd. Millions of people throng the streets freshly showered, in bright clothes, fanning themselves ruing the dreaded May sun, faces gleaming with sweat, and bright white stripes that adorn their foreheads. As the chariot approaches closer and closer you lose yourself in the tremendous crush, in the sea of humanity, all thoughts emptying from your mind. The idols of the four white horses near you as the drumbeats grow louder and you realize the sheer size of the chariot with a mild shock. The wheels alone, as they pass you by, feel so enormous. You register the men and women pulling the rope and those around you chanting with a frenzy that is indescribable. You mostly get a mere glimpse of the deities inside, Meenakshi and Sundareshwara, but a massive dose of the religiosity.

This morning Alagar arrived on the banks of the river Vaigai as a sort of culmination of the festival. An equally crowded affair witnessed by millions of people every year. The myths and legends associated with the Chitirai festival are fascinating. It retells day by day the story of goddess Meenakshi and her wedding to god Shiva.

Meenakshi is a fascinating goddess. She is neither a Sita nor a Kali. She is a princess and later a queen who rules over the kingdom justly and is known for her courage. The highpoint of her beauty is her eyes. Her 'Dikvijayam', part of the Chitirai festival is a celebration of her wars and conquests. She is also a wife, married to a - rather 'the' - powerful angry god, Shiva/Sundareshwara. The festival is as much a celebration of her individual accomplishments as of her love.

The Alagar festival, I read somewhere was merged with the Meenakshi festival only in the medieval times. Alagar's abode, another beautiful temple is away from the city. I find the legend associated with it hilarious and I can't help smile every time I hear it. To add to her woes of dealing with one strong male in her life, Meenakshi also has a brother who is another all-powerful god, Vishnu. Alagar [another name for Vishnu] arrives at the banks of the river Vaigai, fully prepared to give his sister's hand in marriage only to find the wedding already over. He turns back in a huff, despite the bride and the groom rushing over to greet him. Such a universal and familiar theme.

Despite knowing so much about the festival and the temple, it occurred to me only today that both the gods' names mean 'handsome'. Sundareshwarar and Kallalagar. And that I still don't know who actually gives away Meenakshi's hand after all.

While only in Bangalore I come close to feeling completely at home, Meenakshi is perhaps one of the reasons I still think of Madurai as home.

Meenakshim Pranatosmi Santatam Aham.