Monday, February 16, 2009

On the issue of Adaptation.

A reliable source of debate is Indian cinema (of which Bollywood is often taken as a token representative, by mistake) versus Western cinema (Hollywood taking the role of Bollywood). This short piece takes a look at just one of the aspects which differentiates the two whilst not attempting to argue for which is better off. Adaptations.

If one takes a look back at the classics of Western cinema, one common thread running through them is that they are adapted from a book, which may or may not have succeeded on its own. And in the case that the author of the book is alive and kicking, then he/ she would most often that not be a part of the movie scripting team. This ensures that the basic premise of the book is not compromised and helps in capturing its spirit. The success of any movie depends on the strength of the script and also owes a large part to the conviction which the director and the cast have in the movie. This is where a movie adapted from a book scores , because the technical team of the movie and its cast have a solid idea of what their final outcome should resemble. And they take up such a project only if they believe in it.

Coming to Indian cinema, while such a system exists and has produced many a masterpiece, it is still not widely prevalent. It has been used most frequently by the established greats of Indian cinema , from Satyajit Ray to Adoor Goplakrishnan. One director who's an exception to this rule is Maniratnam. Though Thalapathi was a modern adaptation of a timeless classic, most of his other movies have seen him write his own script. This is possible though only due to his diligent research which again is dependent on books as the source.

A possible explanation is the strong oral tradition when it comes to passing on of stories. While India is very rich in its literature of the earlier civilizations, it is very common that even those stories are passed on from generation to generation through oral recitals. Another feature is the embellishment of the stories in songs, Villu paathu and Hari katha being two examples of its use in varied settings and cultures. This was evident in early Indian cinema where most of the movies were what Westerners would classify as musicals. A corruption of these ideals has what has led to the songs and item numbers which are used as stop gap and for entertainment rather than as a means to move the movie forward.

Having digressed a little, to bring back into focus the issue of adaptations, there are attempts being made in the Indian film industry of late to try and adapt novels into movies. However, the criterion seems to be more about the popularity of the novel rather than its adaptability. This curtails the creative freedom of the director because the popularity of the book would mean that the director has to try and stick to it almost verbatim. One wishes that in the future directors look at reworking popular and not so popular literature onto the celluloid. A happy marriage between the written word and moving images is critical for the success of both.

Friday, February 13, 2009

TN 03 FEB 2009

Well Well Well! That's one well each for the three Tamil Nadu players picked for the NZ tour's test squad.

I do understand that the world is not what it used to be and that people have lost their money and minds , but this is incredulous. Hail stones in Chennai last year would possibly the closest on the bizarreness meter. Mr N Srinivasan and Mr Krishnamachari Srikkanth, with their piousness firmly stamped on their foreheads, have gone on to tread a path no man has dared to and ,with great respect for the future generations , never will.

8 players from Bombay was the norm a few decades back and 6 from Karnataka was a given in the 90s. Then came the bad boy of Indian cricket. Dada would take none of this regional bias nonsense. He insisted that he needed 11 players who best represented the country, not 3 players who best represented each selector in the panel. I might have my own favorites and prejudices,, he decreed, but you shall not have any. To his credit, he delivered. Period.

But then one constant through all the 76 years of Indian cricket was the shabby treatment meted out to players from a few particular states. It was as though at the first selection meeting there was an 'un'lucky draw and the names of these states were drawn. To name a few of these states: West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Having spent a considerable part of my ,still, early life in Chennai , I would take up Tamil Nadu to illustrate my point, and in order to not strain my memory too much I shall quote three names S Sharath, Diwakar Vasu and Reuben Paul of the top of my head.All these three may consider themselves pretty unlucky and the first one might be thinking he played in the wrong side of 2000 A.D.

While it is often stated that Sharath was plain unlucky to belong to an era coincinded with that of the Fab Four, it is a point worth wondering that another team mate of his, barely as talented as him got a break (that he failed to latch on it in the true spirit of most Tamil Nadu cricketers is another issue). It certainly would not have been asking for too much to name him at least as a back up batsman, but then he was repeatedly overlooked for players of lesser calibre. To his credit, he continued to pile up the runs and to the collective heartburn of cricket fans in the state he would repeatedly be overlooked.

At a time when decent fast bowlers were at a premium and left armers were an absolute rarity , unlike now, Diwakar Vasu presented a good option. That he would sometimes bowl left arm spin should have added to his chances. But then while many from across the nation were given a trial , he was not even in the fray. Add his reasonable batting skills into the mix and it becomes even more appalling why he never was given a break.

What Dhoni was to the Indian team when he made his debut, Reuben Paul was to Tamil Nadu during his career. An extremely aggressive batsman, he would set an innings ablaze with his six hitting skills and was a very reliable keeper. Considering that there was a stage when Indian keepers did anything but keep their places , he must have been a contender at some stage. But then the selection policy was so strange that while a good keeper who couldn't bat would be dropped for being an incompetent batsman ,another average keeper who could contribute a bit with the bat was given the boot for not keeping well enough. Considering that the Indian first class scene at that point wasn't quite spoilt with such riches , a fair trial to Reuben might have been the way to go.

The common thread running through the careers of these three talented cricketers was the blind eye that the national selectors displayed towards them.

Fast forward to the present. Three Tamil Nadu players in the same squad is something unheard of. My memory serves up times when there were two at the maximum, and those too in seasons when Tamil Nadu and its players had done very well in the Ranji season. That none of these three will feature in the first eleven is a fact, but then if ever there was an affirmative action policy in Indian cricket selection, this is it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Naan Kadavul : Aghori um Aghoram um

Those who had read this would have possibly been expecting this(not awaiting, expecting). So here goes.

What Hariharan Sriram was totally floored by: For a Bala movie the story, screenplay or the acting performances would possibly be the contenders for this, but then the winner ,hands down, are the stunt sequences. There may have only two proper fight sequences but they had an apt raw feel and the brutality of every hit sent a chill down the spine. Super Subburaya, super appu. The dialogues come a close second for being terse and meaningful. Not too many dialogues which do not create an impact. As a couple of characters say "Oru vasagam sonallum thiru vasagam sonna" and "avan romba paesa mattan , aana paesina vivaram aavum irukkum vivahaaram aavum irukkum".

What he was amazed by, but rather expectedly: Illayaraja's background score. The native feel that he's managed to bring in is something which only he can. Though slightly off key, strangely so, in a couple of places it was still the kind of music which enhances the movie. Not exactly Pithamagan levels, but infinitely better than his own magan.

What he was captivated by : In a dark movie, and this qualifies on both counts, the visuals need to be able to carry the impact and Arthur Wilson handles this more than competently. Watch out for some jaw dropping camera work in the final chase sequence and in the few moments before the interval.

What he felt let down by : The rather amateurish direction in the opening scene, giving it a soap opera feel. The poorly developed second rung of characters (barring Rudran's mother and Murugan). Although the lead pair have enhanced their acting reputations, one felt that their acting was repetitive and not as impactful as in Bala's earlier movies. The rather short screen time allocated towards the Aghori sadhus.

What he still can't get over : The acting and the screen presence of all the mentally and physically challenged people in the movie. Kudos to Bala for having utilized them as he has.

What he was pleasantly by : The humour quotient. From the scene in the police station to the one liners from Elee (a standout performance from amongst the physically challenged) Bala ensures that there are enough light moments between the emotionally heavy ones. The dialogues as earlier mentioned are a big help.

What he thinks are the standout performances : Pooja , for her acting and dialogue delivery in the last scene alone qualifies for this. The villain of the movie, (screen name Thandavan) seems to have gotten right into the skin of the character and will possibly be widely sought after in Kollywood after this. Credit to Bala for having yet again developed a very strong role for the villain. Arya can take the consolation price. :)

What he finds extremely funny : The U/A rating. Still unable to fathom which part of the movie the censor board found suitable for the U audience.

What his final verdict is : Having chosen to explore hitherto unexplored aspects , Bala manages to shock and awe and is now on his way to defining a stamp of his own, which no one can ever hope to replicate. A bit of a let down after Pithamagan though.

P.S : For every person you recommend this post to Google / Microsoft / Yahoo , which ever is not bankrupt by then will track you down and pay you $1000. And Ford will also give away itself for one lucky winner.